|Even though we do not know the identity of this man, we can see that he has made a very deliberate decision to pose with such evident pride with his keyed bugle and sheet music. In early photography, people would frequently pose with the tools of their trade or profession, so there is good reason to believe this man is a professional musician. The sheet music he holds is important for several reasons. Even if the man portrayed here was not a member of the circle of the African American composer, conductor, and band leader, Francis Johnson, he would have certainly known of him, as he was the most famous Black musician of his era and a great promoter of the virtues of the keyed bugle. Johnson was the first African American composer to publish his work as sheet music; this man poses with sheet music, perhaps in honor of Johnson, but certainly to convey that he is a literate reader of music, a skill symbolizing refinement and distinction. |
African American musicians faced racial prejudice and even violence in pursuing their careers. Accomplished musicians such as Johnson and the man portrayed here were subject to discrimination and insults by white bands, who resented competition from Black performers, and they sometimes had to dodge angry crowds of whites, who were threatened by the sheer fact that Black musicians could perform so well or even that they could read music. Despite these obstacles, Johnson was hailed as a great musician; he broke ground by performing to mixed race audiences, and he was much in demand for private and public occasions. If the man we see here played his bugle as part of that world, then he also played a part in laying the foundations for the enduring influence of Black music in the United States.