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New Exhibitions

Scrapbook Gems: Harry Partch Inside Out.  University Library Marshall Gallery, University of Illinois (November 1, 2018 – January 2, 2019).

“Maverick,” “iconoclast,” and “isolationist” are terms that historians and musicologists have frequently used to describe twentieth-century composer Harry Partch. Partch constructed his own music instruments, crafted his own tonal system, and found his artistic inspiration from non-Western musical traditions and sounds. His experimental approach to music was not created in isolation, but was fostered by his relationship to his family members during his early childhood. While he never published an autobiography about his life, he did eventually create an autobiographical sketch of his music in the form of two scrapbooks.  His scrapbooks demand that we look beyond his music and writings in order to understand him as a man of many dimensions. This exhibit explores the hidden gems within Partch’s scrapbooks which help lend a deeper perspective to his music and life from the inside out.

Samuel S. Stewart and America’s Banjo.  Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois (October 10, 2018 – September 27, 2019).

Samuel S. Stewart (1855-1898) was born in Philadelphia on January 8th, the son of Dr. Franklin Stewart, and at a very early age took a keen interest in banjo performance after hearing Lew Simmons (b. August 28, 1837) perform “Bell Chimes” at Philadelphia’s Eleventh Street Opera House.  Unhappy with the quality of music that was taught by most banjo instructors, Stewart opened his own banjo company in one room on Philadelphia’s 833 Race Street in 1878, and began to elevate the banjo from its lowbrow minstrel legacy to become an iconic symbol of American middle-class gentility.  While Stewart is frequently discredited as the modernizer of America’s banjo construction, all scholars recognize him as a master salesman who excelled at advertising his instruments and teaching methods through the endorsements of such leading banjo artists as Horace Weston, America’s most accomplished African-American banjo artist of the nineteenth century.  This exhibit explores the legacy of America’s diverse banjo traditions and the extraordinary elegance and craftsmanship of Samuel S. Stewart’s banjos during the nineteenth century.

Banjos, Mandolins, and John Philip Sousa:  America’s Musical Paradox.  Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois (October 3, 2018 – August 2, 2019).

When we think of John Philip Sousa’s marches we immediately imagine his jaunty melodies played by wind bands and string orchestras of every size and ability.  However, the March King’s musical ideas were also arranged for a variety of other instrumental combinations including full banjo and mandolin orchestras. Many of his early marches, including The Washington Post March and The Thunderer, were published by Philadelphia’s Harry Coleman Music Company.  But when David Blakely became the manager of the John Philip Sousa Civilian Military Band in 1892 he convinced Sousa to sign a contract with Cincinnati’s John Church Music Company.  Recognizing the financial benefit of creating different instrumental arrangements of his new marches, Sousa began soliciting other publishers for similar types of music arrangements.  These companies’ arrangers of his marches for banjo and mandolin were John Klohr, a minstrel show musician and trombonist who later performed with the Henry Fillmore band; F. W. Wessenberg, a leading banjo and mandolin instructor from Cincinnati during the late 1890s; and Ralph Colicchio, a virtuoso banjo player and arranger from New York who worked for the Irving Berlin Company.  This exhibit examines their distinctive banjo and mandolin arrangements of several of the March King’s most famous march melodies and the earnings that Sousa made from them.

Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois (August 21, 2017 – February 1, 2019).

The Russian imperial capital of St. Petersburg was a major stop during John Philip Sousa’s 1903 tour of Europe. Sousa planned his St. Petersburg performances to coincide with the tsar’s birthday and the bicentennial of the city’s founding, and anticipated large audiences for these concerts because the band had never before played in Russia. What resulted, however, was a misadventure. The concerts occurred at the beginning of Russia’s annual summer vacation when most theaters and concerts halls were closed. In addition Russian music critics’ responses to his music was tepid. Sousa was intimidated by the extensive advertising throughout the city for what he initially believed to be his music rival Суза, but eventually discovered that this was the Russian spelling of his own name. While the St. Petersburg performances were not well attended, the concerts did spark deep patriotism among the American diplomats who were able to attend and the Russian aristocracy and military enthusiastically received the Sousa Band’s renditions of the Imperial Russian and American national anthems. This exhibit of photographs, music, newspaper reviews, and political cartoons document Russian perceptions of America and Sousa’s music at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Lectures and Workshops

October 18, 2018

Early Banjo Performance Traditions: A Hands-on Workshop
Featuring Stephen Wade
Community Center for the Arts
202 W Main Street, Urbana, Illinois
Admission: Free

To help open this year’s Folk and Roots Festival, Stephen Wade will lead a one-hour hands-on exploration of early banjo performance practices at Urbana, Illinois’ Community Center for the Arts.  Wade, a recent Grammy nominee and director of the American Roots Music Program at Colorado’s Rocky Ridge Music Center, draws on his first-hand experience with traditional musicians, many of whom had been born in the last years of the nineteenth century. Over the course of this interactive session musicians and non-musicians will explore a variety of playing styles that these earlier generation banjoists bequeathed to us. Musicians are urged to bring their own instruments to this special session so that they can apply for themselves these lessons from tradition.

October 19, 2018

Beautiful Music Around Us: Exploring America’s Rich Banjo Heritage
Featuring Stephen Wade
Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
1103 South Sixth Street, Champaign, Illinois
Admission: Free

America’s early banjo heritage is firmly rooted in the rich music traditions of the people who were brought forcefully to this country from West Africa during the eighteenth century.  However, this fact and the evolution of banjo performance practice in late nineteenth century America becomes lost among the countless images of minstrel banjoists crudely portraying slap-stick characters using stylized dialects while wearing oversize shoes and exaggerated clothing.  Over the past century the grinning black-faced banjo player has been embedded deeply into America’s consciousness, and this racially charged imagery and its associated music continues to reflect the social and cultural tensions that exist in America today.  Stephen Wade – one of country’s finest banjo performers, recording artist, and a leading scholar of American folklife and culture – will provide a special performance lecture on America’s rich banjo heritage to reveal the evolution of its diverse artistic traditions and performance practices over time.

November 14, 2018

Exploring the Unspoken Silences that Define Us as Individuals and Communities
Featuring Renée Baker
The Spurlock Museum Auditorium
600 S. Gregory Street, Urbana, Illinois
Admission: Free

The failures of America’s Reconstruction era and later decades of Jim Crow segregation reinforced the cultural isolation and social injustices experienced between black and white America during the later portion of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.  Since the late 1960s progress has been glacially slow to bridge these political and economic divisions, and the pervasive social injustices experienced by people of color continue to bleed across our communities.  The politics of respectability and questions of colorism that permeate today’s racial dialogues only rehash the never-ending cycles of hope and denial for the country’s disenfranchised.  With little or no substantive reward for those individuals who genuinely wish a better and more just life for themselves and others unlike them, the outcome frequently turns to anger, disbelief, and unspoken silences between our communities that we allow to define us over time and mute our desire to learn from one another.  Renée Baker, accomplished Chicago composer and founding director of the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, will provide a 90-minute open discussion and viewing of portions of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Oscar Micheaux’ The Symbol of the Unconquered using her newly created music scores to begin a larger conversation with the audience about the unspoken silences of race and identity that were portrayed in early twentieth-century silent movies and continue to exist in today’s America.


October 19, 2018

Reconstructing America’s Rich Banjo Heritage
Featuring Stephen Wade
Community Center for the Arts
202 W Main Street, Urbana, Illinois
Admission: $15

Stephen Wade is arguably the best “non-grass” five-string banjo player in America today. His loyal following includes people who years ago saw his one-man stage show, Banjo Dancing that was artistically inspired from the folksongs, stories, banjo tunes, and his own personal insights about America’s diverse musical soundscape.  He has performed nightly on Washington’s Arena Stage for ten years, before his On the Way Home show succeeded it for several more. Wade’s widely acclaimed book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us, has been awarded the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award and the ARSC Best History Award for its extraordinary scholarship and sensitive reconstructions of the sights and sounds of the many musicians who thrived from the Mississippi Delta to Southern Appalachia and the Great Plains between 1934 and 1942.  Wade’s concert will include a wide range of traditional banjo melodies and tall tales that will be sure to stir his audience’s hearts and feet, and will leave them asking for more at each turn. For further information visit

October 20, 2018

For All Ages Family Programming
Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival
Community Center for the Arts
202 W Main Street, Urbana, Illinois
Admission: Free

The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music is again sponsoring a series of free family performances as part of the 2018 Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival.  This year’s programming includes Morning Music with Robin Kearton, Little Folkers Puppet Party with Miss Hanna Rae, the Deep Fried Pickle Project, and the return of the Festival’s Music Mayhem Parade. For further information visit