Curation, Music, and Law
37 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2017 Last revised: 3 Jul 2018
Date Written: March 13, 2017
One hundred years ago in early 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band released the first widely disseminated jazz recording. This recording included the song Livery Stable Blues, which quickly became the subject of copyright infringement litigation in the case Hart v. Graham. This case ended in a court decision that soon became virtually invisible, at least in the legal universe. This legal case highlights the impact of curation, long recognized in artistic spheres but generally not acknowledged as such in law. Discussions of curation are typically associated with dialogue in artistic arenas. However, pulling together, sifting through and selecting materials for presentation and representation evident in curation of art and music are pervasive in law. Law is represented, displayed, exhibited, and performed in varied contexts, many of which reflect curatorial activities. Acts of selection and representation may in turn reveal conscious and unconscious assumptions and biases. The shaping of black music as a category owes much to curation by varied actors in different locations at varied points in time. Consequently, what is thought to constitute black music is closely related to societal conceptions and individual understandings of what African American culture should be. The body of works that came to be categorized as black music constitutes a malleable category that has changed and that will continue to change with time, place, and circumstance. This paper assesses implications of curation for African American music and legal and other contexts within which such music has been created, circulated, and consumed.
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