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The CMA Experience: Highlighting the Chicago Music Association Collection at Amistad

by Felicia D. Render, Archivist

Celebrating the accomplishments of African American classical performers and chronicling the rich musical traditions of Black singers, composers, and scholars of operatic music in the United States is an essential component to Amistad Research Center’s mission: “to collect, preserve and provide open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America’s complex ethnic and racial history.” For this post, we are highlighting the cultural contributions of the Chicago Music Association (CMA).

Program: Annual Music Festival, June 7, 1965
Program: Annual Music Festival, June 7, 1965

The Chicago Music Association (CMA) was the first incorporated branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., founded in Chicago in 1919 by Nora Douglas Holt and Henry L. Grant, along with numerous other musicians across the country. Holt, a composer and music critic for the Chicago Defender from 1917 to 1921 and later for the New York Amsterdam News, was instrumental in the establishment of the CMA. Other founders were Wesley Jones, Estella Bonds, Clara Hutchison, T.T. Taylor, Martha B. Anderson Wynne, and Maude R. George. Among the delegates to the first convention of the CMA, held in the Chicago Wabash Street YMCA, was a young choir member from a Philadelphia church, Marian Anderson.

Interesting finds within the manuscript collection are newsletters and programs from the CMA’s productions and other related acts. Of special note is the personal and professional correspondence of Clarice Saunders (1947-1972), along with a handwritten guest list for her wedding (1956). In addition to the CMA’s programs – including those from annual events, such as the Festival of Choirs, their Annual Music Festival, National Negro History Celebrations, and productions of Handel’s Messiah – there are programs from the R. Nathaniel Dett Club of Music and Arts, and the National Association of Negro Musicians.

Newsletter: Chicago Music Association (April 1957)
Newsletter: "Chicago Music Association" (April 1957)

Other cultural influences of the CMA include publication of a newsletter that highlighted their members’ national and international contributions. In an April 1957 newsletter found within the collection, member Elizabeth McMinn, organist at West Point Baptist Church, traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, “during the Mardi Gras.” Member Etta Moten attended the formal ceremonies of the independence of Ghana, and recorded her experience for her NBC radio program. Finally, member Marian Anderson was praised for her opera performance: “Marian Anderson’s way with the Aria, Pleurez Mes Yeux, from ‘Le Cid’ by [Jules] Massenet was breathtaking…”

Overall, the Chicago Music Association Collection provides insight into an African American music organization dedicated to supporting classically-trained Black musicians who were traditionally denied access to major music and concert venues. The organization continues to develop international appreciation of traditional and contemporary music by Black composers and singers, while assisting with the cultivation of musical gifts and a cultural experience that is music.

The project to preserve and open the Chicago Music Association Collection is funded in part by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.


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