Skip to Main Content

Music: 57-480/780: History of Black American Music: Start

Reference Books



Black Music Research Journal

Getting Started

Undergraduate Students Working in Groups

Since you're researching a broad music genre, it would be good for you to read about that genre in Grove Music Online and the African American Studies Center. After that you could look for books in the CMU library catalog and Worldcat (worldwide library catalog). There are Cameo search results on broad subject terms in box to the left. See if you can find recordings for your presentation in American MusicNaxos Music Library, and Naxos Jazz.

Graduate Students Trying to Decide on a Topic

We have several reference books that focus on black composers and musicians in classical music. You could take a look at these to find a person or several people to focus on for your research paper.

Browsing ProQuest Dissertations and ThesesMusic Index and RILM Music Abstracts will give you a sense of topics others have chosen to write about. Granted your paper is not going to be dissertation length, but you could take a look at one aspect of a topic and investigate it further. Music Index and RILM provide journal articles to support your research paper. 

You might think geographically about a research topic. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland has a Pittsburgh Music section on their website. It might be fun to research a local person and use some primary resources if they are available. Think about where you grew up and how the music of black Americans influenced your city or town.

Once you decide on a topic, see of it is covered in Grove Music Online and the African American Studies Center. After that, look for books in the CMU library catalog and Worldcat (worldwide library catalog), and then journal articles in Music Index and RILM Music Abstracts. You may also try an Articles search from the library home page. This search will provide results from interdisciplinary databases that you won't find in Music Index/RILM.

Library Databases & Websites to Browse

African American Music Reference
Includes online biographies, background information, liner notes, and sheet music. You can browse by genre.

African American Studies Center
Good for background information on specific musicians and genres.

American Music
Find recordings for your presentation. They have a list of genres on their home page than can help get you started.

The Black Music History Library
This is a living collection of books, articles, documentaries, series, podcasts and more about the Black origins of traditional and popular music dating from the 18th century to present day. Resources are organized chronologically and by genre for ease of browsing. 

Database of recorded American music. There are about nine albums with music by African-American composers. Enter the search terms African American in the search box.

The nation's largest African American video oral history collection. 

Naxos Music Library
Find recordings for your presentation. 

Naxos Jazz
Find recordings for your presentation.

National Jukebox (pre-1925)
Historical Recordings from the Library of Congress. This is a free database.

Explore what isn't in Google

CMU Library Catalog

Worldcat (FirstSearch interface through University Libraries)
Note that results may differ between this interface and the free version below. I find the FirstSearch interface results to be more comprehensive, but feel free to search both and use what works best for you. (free version)

Oxford Music Online (includes Grove Music Online)

Oxford Art Online
If your topic crosses over into art you may want to search Oxford Art Online as well. I noticed there is an article for John Cage in both Oxford Art and Oxford Music. The content differs enough that depending on your focus one might be better than the other for your topic. There is also an article on 'music and art' in Oxford Art but there isn't a comparable article in Oxford Music. There is an article in Oxford Music for Impressionism that could be useful if you're more interested in composers who contributed to that movement.

Music Index with Full Text
Citations and some full text of articles about classical and popular music, musicians, and the music industry for more than 475 periodicals, as well as book reviews, obituaries, news, and selective coverage for more than 230 periodicals. Covers 1970-present.

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
A comprehensive bibliography on writings about music featuring citations, abstracts, and indexes. It covers over one million publications from around the world on traditional music, popular music, classical music, and related subjects. Coverage begins in the early 19th century and extends to the present.

Helpful Links

Journal Search
Look up journal titles to see if they are available full text online through one of our database subscriptions.


Student Academic Success Center
Located on the Posner Hall. An excellent resource to enhance your written, oral, and visual communication skills. 


Interlibrary Loan
Not finding what you need in our library? Use ILLiad or EZ Borrow to get books, journal articles, music scores and recordings, etc. from other libraries. Free of charge in most cases.

Need more help?
Kristin Heath
Music Librarian
Music Libguide