African-American Musicians Biographies


This pathfinder was designed for individuals interested in finding biographical information on African-American musicians involved in all musical forms and styles. It includes print resources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and books, as well as databases, web sites, and related Internet Public Library resources. It is suggested that you ask the librarian at your library for assistance in finding more resources since this pathfinder contains just a sampling of resources.

Web Sites

You can search the Internet for information on musicians. There are many reliable web sites that contain a wealth of biographical information on African-American musicians such as the ones listed below.

African American Art Song Alliance


The African-American Art Song is an online resource containing biographical information on African-American composers and performers devoted to this art form.

African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920
This web site is an excellent resource from the Library of Congress’ American Memory project. It is a collection of sheet music representing African-Americans from 1850 to 1920. It is a highly recommended resource on early African-American composers and songwriters of that time period.

This web site contains information on over fifty musicians from African, African-American, and Afro-European backgrounds from the Classical to Contemporary music periods.

Archives of African American Music and Culture
This is an excellent online resource from Indiana University, this web site represents some of the materials in the repository representing African-American music and culture. Black History
This website from the Biography Channel contains biographical information of several African-American musicians among other black Americans who made significant contributions in their respective fields.

Black History Biographies
This is a free resource from Gale Cengage Learning. It contains biographies on past and present African-American musicians such as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, and Kanye West.

Center for Black Music Research
This website from the Center for Black Music Research contains resources and a wealth of information about Black music around the world.

Classical Net
This web site covers all aspects of classical music — genres, composers, performers, periods, links, and geographical guides to instrumental music.

Encyclopedia Britannica Guide to Black History
The Encyclopedia Britannica Guide to Black History has a biography section containing information on individuals of African decent in several professional areas.

Smithsonian: African American Music
The Smithsonian is one of America’s richest treasures of information and artifacts. This website contains a wealth of information about African-American music and musicians.

Fact Monster: Notable African-Americans
This web site contains brief biographies on not only musicians, but other African-Americans from other fields. You can browse the biographies by categories. While this web site is a good source of information, it contains ads.

PBS: Jazz Biographies
This web site from PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, contains almost 100 African-American biographies mainly on jazz from the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.

Related IPL Resources

This link provides the Internet Public Library’s biographies resources to musicians and composers, as well as, artists and architects, authors, entertainers, politicians and rulers, and scientists and inventors.

This link provides the Internet Public Library’s music resources. Resources to collectors and collecting, musicians and composers, opera, and performance are provided.

Musicians & Composers
This link provides the Internet Public Library’s musicians and composers’ resources.

This link provides the Internet Public Library’s opera resources.

Swinging Through Time
The history of the Detroit jazz scene comes to life through a multimedia experience including essays, photographs, RealAudio and QuickTime video.

Library of Congress Classification: Class M – Music

Many libraries use the LOC Classification System to place books on the shelves. You can browse books in music by going to the sections in the following subclasses in your library: Subclass M – Music; Subclass ML – Literature on music; and Subclass MT – Instruction and study. The link above provides the entire music classification of the Library of Congress.

Class M – Music


Electronic databases are great sources of information to search if you are interested in looking for full-text articles, journals and biographical information. Most electronic databases require a password for access. Ask your librarian for assistance with access to these electronic databases. You may be able to access these databases for free from your home through your local library’s website!

African-American Biographical Database
This database contains b iographical sketches on thousands of African-Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

American National Biography Online
This database is a source for biographies of close to 18,000 Americans and their contributions to the nation.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index
This database is index to over 15.4 million biographical sketches from encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries and other sources. It also contains biographical sketches of African-Americans from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Biography Resource Center
This database contains b iographical information on thousands of individuals worldwide in various fields and professions. This is an excellent and highly recommended resource for biographical information.

Grove Music Online
This database includes a combination of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, and the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz all in one resource.

International Who’s Who
This database contains biographical information on over 22,000 individuals from around the world in music, the performing arts, as well as business, politics, religion, sports, literature, etc.

Print Resources: Dictionaries, Encyclopedias & Books

Ask the reference librarian at your library for assistance in searching for these resources. Most of them are reference books and are usually available for in-library use. The librarians also can help you find information about music in other resources such as journals, newspapers, magazines, CDs, and DVDs in the Online Public Access Catalog. The Library of Congress’ call number is included if you desire to go directly to the shelves to locate any of these print resource.

African American Music: An Introduction
by Earl Stewart (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998)
LC Call Number: ML3556 .S87 1998
This book contains information on African-American music from the early slavery period to contemporary period. The various musical forms and styles, such as jazz, blues, rap, and hip-hop are discussed within the book.

African American Musicians
by Eleanora E. Tate ( New York: Wiley, 2000)
LC Call Number: ML3929 .T38 2000
This book contains biographical information on a selected group of African-American musicians representing the early nineteenth century to modern times. Although this is a book for school age students, it is a good starting point for information.

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians , 8th Edition
by Theodore Baker (New York: Schirmer Books, 1992)
LC Call Number: ML105 .B16 1992
This book is a definite music resource for every library. It contains a wealth of information on numerous musicians, including jazz musicians. It is a highly recommended music resource.

Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia
by Robert Santelli (New York: Penguin Books, 1993)
LC Call Number: ML102 .B6 S26 1993
A comprehensive resource on the various styles of blues, this book contains biographical information on over 600 musicians and information about blues recordings.

Biographical Dictionary of African Americans
by Rachel Kranz and Philip Koslow (New York: Facts on File, 1999)
LC Call Number: E185.96 .K73 1993
Another book written for school age students, this book contains over 200 biographies on African-Americans in several fields, including music.

Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians
by Eileen Southern (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press 1982)
LC Call Number: ML105 .S67 1982
This book is another excellent source by renowned scholar Eileen Southern, a distinguished Harvard musicologist. This book is a great resource for biographical information on men and women of African decent who made significant contributions to music.

Biographical Dictionary of Jazz
by Charles E. Claghorn (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982)

Biographies of Black Composers and Songwriters: A Supplementary Textbook
by Ellistine Holly (Dubuque, IA: William C Brown Publishers, 1990)
LC Call Number: ML105 .C59 1982
This book contains biographical information on over 3,000 jazz musicians. Information on singers, performers, composers and jazz bands are also included.

Black Conductors
by D. Antoinette Handy (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1995)
LC Call Number: ML402 .H36 1995
This book contains biographies of early and present day African-American conductors.

Black Music and Musicians in the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and the New Harvard Dictionary of Music
by Dominque-Rene de Lerma and Marsha J. Reisser (Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, 1989)
LC Call Number: ML128 .B45 D445
This book contains a compilation of Black music and musicians from the New Grove Dictionary of Music and the New Harvard Dictionary of Music.

Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras, 2nd Edition
by D. Antoinette Handy (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998)
LC Call Number: ML82 .H36 1998
This book contains biographical information on Black women in several wind, percussion, and orchestral performing ensembles.

Blacks in Classical Music: A Bibliographical Guide to Composers, Performers, and Ensembles
compiled by John Gray (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988)
LC Call Number: ML128 .B45 G7 1988
This book covers the gamut of the involvement of Blacks in classical music from the mid-eighteenth century to present day. It contains biographical information on close to 300 Black musicians and ensembles throughout the world. This book is a highly recommended resource.

Blues Who’s Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers
by Sheldon Harris (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1979)
LC Call Number: ML102 .B6 H3
This book contains over 500 biographies of blues singers throughout the twentieth century. It contains photographs and presents historical information on the blues through important singers of this art form.

Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip-Hop
by Yvonne Byone ( Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006)
LC Call Number: ML102 .R27 B96 2006
This book covers individual rap artists as well as groups in this popular music genre. It includes biographical information and a discography.

From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music by Helen Walker-Hill ( Westport: CT: Greenwood Press, 2002)
LC Call Number: ML390 .W16 2002
This book introduces the reader to eight African-American women composers who have not been given overwhelming exposure in the field of music. The book looks at their music, environment, and racial challenges.

Great African Americans in Music
by Pat Rediger (New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 1996)
LC Call Number: ML3929 .R43 1996
This book is written for young students and profiles a few well-known African-American musicians from gospel to rap music.

Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music
edited by Don M. Randel (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996)
LC Call Number: ML105 .H38 1996
This book contains over 5,000 biographical entries on musicians and performers from the early music to contemporary periods.

International Dictionary of Black Composers
edited by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999)
LC Call Number: ML105 .I5 1999
This two-volume source contains biographical information as well as information on the compositions and discographies of 250 composers of African decent.

International Who’s Who in Popular Music, Volume 2
edited by Sean Taylor (Cambridge, England: International Who’s Who in Music, 1996)
LC Call Number: ML105 .I58
This book contains over 6,000 biographical entries on contemporary musicians and performers in popular music. The book also contains information on the individual’s career, style of music, and recordings.

Music of Black Americans: A History , 3rd Edition
by Eileen Southern (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997)
LC Call Number: ML3556 .S74 1997
This book, written by a renowned Harvard professor and scholar of African-American music, covers the music of African-Americans from the colonial period to the present. It includes bibliographies, discographies, and information on African-American women musicians.

New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
edited by Barry Kernfeld (London: Macmillan, 1988)
LC Call Number: ML102 .J3 N48 1988
This three-volume book is an authoritative source of information on jazz, including biographies, jazz groups, jazz styles and forms, and jazz instruments. It is a highly recommended source on the one true American art form.

New Grove Dictionary of American Music
edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1986)
LC Call Number: ML101 .U6 N48 1986
This four-volume set of books covers American music such as jazz, pop, and folk music. Information on American composers and musicians are also covered in this set of books.

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
by Stanley Sadie ( New York: Grove, 2001)
LC Call Number: ML100 .N48 2001
This set of books has become an invaluable resource in music. It covers many topics in music such as composers, musical styles, musicians, history, styles and forms, etc. It is a authoritative resource for anyone looking for information in music.

Notable Black American Women
edited by Jessie Carney Smith (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1992)
LC Call Number: E185.96 .N68 1992
This book set has over 1000 biographical essays on notable African-American women and their contributions in their respective fields.

Oxford Companion to Jazz
by Bill Kirchner ( Oxford: University Press, 2000)
LC Call Number: ML3507 .O94 2000
This book looks at jazz and other African-American art forms including biographies on a few famous jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to name a few.

This pathfinder was created by Dale Thomas for LIS5916, Virtual Reference Environments, Dr. Lorri Mon, Florida State University, Fall 2007.