December 11, 2018
A Mars Hill University history professor is among the nominees for the 61st annual Grammy Awards. David Gilbert is nominated in the category of Best Album Notes for the album “The Product of Our Souls: The Sound And Sway Of James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra.” The album is a companion to Gilbert’s book “The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Music Marketplace.” The Product of Our Souls is one of six albums nominated in the category.
“I have been a working musician all of my adult life and am very passionate about my research topics in African-American cultural history,” Gilbert said, “but I never imagined getting such recognition.” Gilbert said he hopes to attend the Grammy ceremony in February.
The opportunity even to be part of the project came about because of his book. Gilbert said Archeophone Records had put together the album and contacted him to write the liner notes, because of his authority about James Reese Europe, established through The Product of Our Souls book. The book explores African-American musicians and stage entertainers in New York City in the first two decades of the 20th century and shows how black entertainers made Broadway Avenue and Tin Pan Alley song publishers in New York synonymous with American popular culture.
Archeophone specializes in preserving, restoring, and publishing recordings from 1890 through 1925. The liner notes Gilbert wrote ended up being a 56-page full-color insert of what Archeophone describes as “incisive musical and cultural analysis, establishing James Reese Europe’s prominence of position among the great musical forces of the 20th century.”
Gilbert said the album contains remastered versions of what are believed to be the first recordings by an African-American band in U.S. history: “Europe’s Society Orchestras were among the most well-known and sought-after dance bands in New York City, roughly from 1910 through the World War I period.” Included on the album are all eight recordings made by Europe’s orchestra in 1913 and 1914, along with 12 other songs written by Europe but recorded by other bands.
Gilbert teaches post-Civil War history and a variety of upper-level classes in American intellectual, social, and cultural history at Mars Hill University, and focuses on topics such as civil rights, consumer culture, the history of capitalism, and the histories of jazz, blues, R&B, and hip-hop as often as he can. The Product of Our Souls book won the American Library Association’s Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title in 2015, and his dissertation on the same topic was a finalist for the Society for American Music’s Housewright Dissertation Award in 2012.