100 books like The Music of Black Americans

By Eileen Southern,

Here are 100 books that The Music of Black Americans fans have personally recommended if you like The Music of Black Americans. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of To Be, or Not... to Bop

Lilian Terry Author Of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

From my list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz.

Who am I?

Lilian Terry’s background is quite out-of-the-ordinary. Born in Egypt in 1930 to Maltese and Italian parents, she undertook academic studies in Cairo and Florence. Terry studied classical piano until age 17, developing an interest in jazz in her early teens. She participated in a variety of ways with jazz in Europe, beginning in the 1950s. As a singer, she was an active performer and recording artist. At the same time, she produced radio and television shows for Italy’s RAI network, and this activity led to some of her encounters with major figures of American jazz. Seven of these interactions (most of which spanned decades) are the subject of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends.

Lilian's book list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

Lilian Terry Why did Lilian love this book?

For the same reason I would recommend attending any musical performance by John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie: Sheer entertainment, surprisingly touching aspects of his personality, instant feelings of friendship shared, and his unbreakable optimism, with which to face and endure whatever life had in store for him. In Italy he was a beloved “Italian,” officially elected honorary citizen of Bassano del Grappa, where we had opened the “Dizzy Gillespie Popular School of Music” that carried an integrated section for blind students. When his memoirs were published he asked me to translate the book into Italian, therefore I had to read it with particular concentration. Many were the moments I would have to shut the book and laugh out loud! Oh yes, Diz the Wiz, or The Joyous Soul of Jazz!     

By Dizzy Gillespie, Al Fraser,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked To Be, or Not... to Bop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You don't have to know John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie's songs to feel his influence. The self-taught trumpet player rose from a poor but musically driven upbringing to become a jazz mastermind, founding the bebop movement and giving rise to Afro-Cuban music.

This extensive biography is intertwined with reflections from famous Gillespie associates Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. They provide numerous perspectives of Gillespie's early start on the road to fame and the spirited times that would follow.

To Be, or Not . . . to Bop is a unique…


Book cover of In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz

Lilian Terry Author Of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

From my list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz.

Who am I?

Lilian Terry’s background is quite out-of-the-ordinary. Born in Egypt in 1930 to Maltese and Italian parents, she undertook academic studies in Cairo and Florence. Terry studied classical piano until age 17, developing an interest in jazz in her early teens. She participated in a variety of ways with jazz in Europe, beginning in the 1950s. As a singer, she was an active performer and recording artist. At the same time, she produced radio and television shows for Italy’s RAI network, and this activity led to some of her encounters with major figures of American jazz. Seven of these interactions (most of which spanned decades) are the subject of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends.

Lilian's book list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

Lilian Terry Why did Lilian love this book?

Donald Marquis takes you firmly by the hand and leads you into that Wonderland that was New Orleans from 1877, when Bolden was born; then through the brief but extraordinary rise of Bolden’s personality and the powerful sound of his trumpet echoing through the streets of New Orleans. The author brings out Buddy’s tragic descent into mental illness, his entrance into the Insane Asylum of Louisiana, and his untimely death in 1930 at the young age of thirty-three. The book is a very sober tale of life in those times, it is rooted in the political and artistic history of jazz music and a very touching homage to a ghost. Today there are people wondering if Buddy Bolden really did exist?

By Donald M. Marquis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In Search of Buddy Bolden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles ""Buddy"" Bolden (1877- 1931) are inextricably intertwined. Just after the turn of the century, New Orleanians could often hear Bolden's powerful horn from the city's parks and through dance hall windows. Despite his lack of formal training, his unique style- both musical and personal- made him the first ""king"" of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong.

For years the legend of Buddy Bolden was overshadowed by myths about his music, his reckless lifestyle, and his mental instability. In…


Book cover of Invisible Man

Daryl Cumber Dance Author Of From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore

From my list on African American folklore.

Who am I?

I'm a devotee of the Word. I collect folklore. I teach literature. Generally I deal with everything from the Greek epics to Jamaican dub poetry, but my focus has been on African American folklore and culture. You might say that I'm something of a proselytizer, dedicated to seeking the Word, collecting and preserving the Word, interpreting the Word, spreading the Word. To paraphrase an old folk saying, "I've got the Word in me, and I can preach it, you know." My numerous collections of folklore have won awards and citations and enthusiastic praise from some impressive personalities and journals, but my greatest reward is witnessing the impact my collections have on ordinary, just plainlongso folk.

Daryl's book list on African American folklore

Daryl Cumber Dance Why did Daryl love this book?

One of America’s greatest novels, Invisible Man is a veritable potpourri of African American Folklore. 

I, and most other professors, always have this novel at the head of our list of readings for courses in African American literature, culture, and/or folklore. There are probably more studies of this novel than of any other African American novel. 

By Ralph Ellison,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Invisible Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this deeply compelling novel and epic milestone of American literature, a nameless narrator tells his story from the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

He describes growing up in a Black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," before retreating amid violence and confusion.

Originally published in 1952 as the first novel by a then unknown author, it remained on the bestseller list for…


Book cover of Music is My Mistress

Lilian Terry Author Of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

From my list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz.

Who am I?

Lilian Terry’s background is quite out-of-the-ordinary. Born in Egypt in 1930 to Maltese and Italian parents, she undertook academic studies in Cairo and Florence. Terry studied classical piano until age 17, developing an interest in jazz in her early teens. She participated in a variety of ways with jazz in Europe, beginning in the 1950s. As a singer, she was an active performer and recording artist. At the same time, she produced radio and television shows for Italy’s RAI network, and this activity led to some of her encounters with major figures of American jazz. Seven of these interactions (most of which spanned decades) are the subject of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends.

Lilian's book list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

Lilian Terry Why did Lilian love this book?

I have three main reasons to love this book: a) it is brilliantly written by Ellington himself; with his gentle-ironical sense of humour and his intention to put down on paper his magic musical world for the entertainment of all generations to come. b) I was fortunate to be “adopted” by him during the last nine years of his life, when “Uncle Eddie” would dictate to me any subject that came to his mind and I would make sure he had his copy, for later use in his book. c) to the last days of his life he was a constant inspiration; as a generous human being and as a universal musician.

By Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Music is My Mistress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

}Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one. This is the story of Duke Ellingtonthe story of Jazz itself. Told in his own way, in his own words, a symphony written by the King of Jazz. His story spans and defines a half-century of modern music.This man who created over 1500 compositions was as much at home in Harlems Cotton Club in the 20s as he was at a White House birthday celebration in his honor in the 60s. For Duke knew everyone and savored them all. Passionate about his music and the people who made…


Book cover of Aux Frontières du Jazz

Lilian Terry Author Of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

From my list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz.

Who am I?

Lilian Terry’s background is quite out-of-the-ordinary. Born in Egypt in 1930 to Maltese and Italian parents, she undertook academic studies in Cairo and Florence. Terry studied classical piano until age 17, developing an interest in jazz in her early teens. She participated in a variety of ways with jazz in Europe, beginning in the 1950s. As a singer, she was an active performer and recording artist. At the same time, she produced radio and television shows for Italy’s RAI network, and this activity led to some of her encounters with major figures of American jazz. Seven of these interactions (most of which spanned decades) are the subject of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends.

Lilian's book list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

Lilian Terry Why did Lilian love this book?

Any aficionado follower of our music is aware that – for all the lists of books on jazz, worldwide nowadays – in truth the very first nations to study seriously and passionately this extraordinary music called jazz were the European countries.   They discovered in the 1930s the magic of those Black orchestras that entertained the wealthy cruise ships travelling from the United States to France and Europe. The local musicians welcomed their Black colleagues who became their teachers. While in the United States jazz music was considered just another form of dance music, in Europe, it was examined, dissected, catalogued, and played with great passion.

The very first world book ever published on jazz came from Belgium in 1932, called At the Frontiers of Jazz by Robert Goffin (in the French language). Followed the famous Le Hot Jazz by Panassiè in 1934, today also translated into English. The dam was…

By Robert Goffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aux Frontières du Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cet ouvrage est une réédition numérique d’un livre paru au XXe siècle, désormais indisponible dans son format d’origine.


Book cover of Mules and Men

Paul Stoller Author Of Wisdom from the Edge: Writing Ethnography in Turbulent Times

From my list on writing about the wisdom of others.

Who am I?

I was passionate about anthropology in the 1970s when I was in my twenties and am still passionate about anthropology in the 2020s in my seventies. Throughout the years I have expressed my passion for anthropology in university classrooms, in public lectures, and in the 16 books I have published. As my mind has matured, I understand more and more fully just how important it is to write powerfully, cogently, and accessibly about the wisdom of others. In all my books I have attempted to convey to the public this fundamental wisdom, none more so than in my latest book, Wisdom from the Edge: Writing Ethnography in Turbulent Times.   

Paul's book list on writing about the wisdom of others

Paul Stoller Why did Paul love this book?

Hurston’s Mules and Men is a classic work in which the author returns to her hometown, Eatonville, Florida, in the late 1920s to conduct anthropological research. 

In the work Hurston captures the complex texture of social life in a fully incorporated African American community. The result is a rich mix of character descriptions, masterfully crafted dialogues, and a collection of stories that reflect powerfully the deep knowledge and profound wisdom of Eatonville’s cast of characters. 

By Zora Neale Hurston, Miguel Covarrubias (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mules and Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Hurston recounts her experiences collecting Afro-American folklore and offers some seventy folk tales and a series of hoodoo rituals


Book cover of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore

Daryl Cumber Dance Author Of From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore

From my list on African American folklore.

Who am I?

I'm a devotee of the Word. I collect folklore. I teach literature. Generally I deal with everything from the Greek epics to Jamaican dub poetry, but my focus has been on African American folklore and culture. You might say that I'm something of a proselytizer, dedicated to seeking the Word, collecting and preserving the Word, interpreting the Word, spreading the Word. To paraphrase an old folk saying, "I've got the Word in me, and I can preach it, you know." My numerous collections of folklore have won awards and citations and enthusiastic praise from some impressive personalities and journals, but my greatest reward is witnessing the impact my collections have on ordinary, just plainlongso folk.

Daryl's book list on African American folklore

Daryl Cumber Dance Why did Daryl love this book?

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore is a superb three-volume introduction to every area of African American Folklore by one of the nation’s leading Black folklorists.

I found it required reading for anyone interested in Black folklore. The entries are detailed and well written. I am frequently recommending this encyclopedia to people who often write to me with questions about African American folklore.

By Anand Prahlad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

African American culture draws upon a rich body of traditions from Africa, Latin America, and the South, and folklore is fundamental to the African American heritage. The first work of its kind, this definitive encyclopedia comprehensively overviews African American folklore. Included are roughly 700 alphabetically arranged entries by more than 100 expert contributors on such topics as folktales, music, art, foodways, spiritual beliefs, proverbs, and many other subjects. Entries cite works for further reading, and the encyclopedia concludes with a bibliography of major works.

African American folklore has played a dominant role in shaping the spirit and soul of the…


Book cover of The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism

Daryl Cumber Dance Author Of From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore

From my list on African American folklore.

Who am I?

I'm a devotee of the Word. I collect folklore. I teach literature. Generally I deal with everything from the Greek epics to Jamaican dub poetry, but my focus has been on African American folklore and culture. You might say that I'm something of a proselytizer, dedicated to seeking the Word, collecting and preserving the Word, interpreting the Word, spreading the Word. To paraphrase an old folk saying, "I've got the Word in me, and I can preach it, you know." My numerous collections of folklore have won awards and citations and enthusiastic praise from some impressive personalities and journals, but my greatest reward is witnessing the impact my collections have on ordinary, just plainlongso folk.

Daryl's book list on African American folklore

Daryl Cumber Dance Why did Daryl love this book?

The Signifying Monkey is the groundbreaking theoretical study of the role of folklore in African American literature.

I could not put it down when I first read it. It was required reading for my literature students. I have probably quoted it in at least four essays. Gates is, of course, the leading scholar of African American literature. He set the standard for all of us who write and teach in this field. 

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Signifying Monkey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s original, groundbreaking study explores the relationship between the African and African-American vernacular traditions and black literature, elaborating a new critical approach located within this tradition that allows the black voice to speak for itself. Examining the ancient poetry and myths found in African, Latin American, and Caribbean culture, and particularly the Yoruba trickster figure of Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey, whose
myths help articulate the black tradition's theory of its literature, Gates uncovers a unique system of interpretation and a powerful vernacular tradition that black slaves brought with them to the New World. His critical approach…


Book cover of Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music

Charles Hersch Author Of Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

From my list on jazz’s connection to democracy.

Who am I?

Music has always spoken to my innermost being, and coming of age in the late 1960s, I’ve been drawn to the quest for justice and equality in politics.  In my undergraduate studies at Berkeley, the late political theorist Michael Rogin, who interpreted Moby Dick as a parable of 19th Century race relations, taught me that my two interests could be combined.  As a professor of Political Science I’ve written books and articles that explore music’s ability to express ideas about politics, race, and ethnicity in sometimes unappreciated ways. 

Charles' book list on jazz’s connection to democracy

Charles Hersch Why did Charles love this book?

In this utterly unique book, Small contends that music does not consist of “works” but is rather an activity called “musicking” that enacts relationships – between sounds but also among the participants, including the audience. Through musicking we learn about ourselves in relationship to others, and that relationship can be one of submission (sitting quietly listening to an orchestra) or equality (jazz musicians improvising in response to each other while the audience shouts encouragement). In Small’s view, African American music enacts democratic relationships, in which all participate as equals, and individuality is enhanced rather than hindered by group solidarity.  

By Christopher Small,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Music of the Common Tongue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In clear and elegant prose, Music of the Common Tongue, first published in 1987, argues that by any reasonable reckoning of the function of music in human life the African American tradition, that which stems from the collision between African and European ways of doing music which occurred in the Americas and the Caribbean during and after slavery, is the major western music of the twentieth century. In showing why this is so, the author presents not only an account of African American music from its origins but also a more general consideration of the nature of the music act…


Book cover of Blues People

Dennis McNally Author Of On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

From my list on jazz and the story it tells about America.

Who am I?

I have a sophisticated education, including a Ph.D. in History from the University of Massachusetts. I have had a career, if that’s precisely the word, in the music business as the publicist for the Grateful Dead. I spent ten years researching what became On Highway 61. I have been a close observer of America’s racial politics at least since 1962, when the head of the Hollywood NAACP, James Tolbert, and his family, moved in next door to my family’s home in the white working-class neighborhood of Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Tolbert instructed me in music among other things, and I’ve been studying ever since.

Dennis' book list on jazz and the story it tells about America

Dennis McNally Why did Dennis love this book?

I have gone back to Blues People for all three of my books. His insight into the blues, jazz, and the relationship of white people and Black music still resonates, and the book is now 60 years old. Things would get much weirder in his life personally and between the races socially in the years after, but this book is no-bullshit truth.

By Leroi Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blues People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A must for all who would more knowledgeably appreciate and better comprehend America's most popular music." — Langston Hughes

"The path the slave took to 'citizenship' is what I want to look at. And I make my analogy through the slave citizen's music—through the music that is most closely associated with him: blues and a later, but parallel development, jazz... [If] the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music."

So says Amiri Baraka (previously known as LeRoi Jones) in the Introduction to Blues…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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