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American Rhapsody

American Rhapsody
African, Native and European music in the New World

Burnett Thompson, Piano
Alex Blake, Bass
Hamid Habib, Tabla

Buy Vinyl & CD   Notes on the Recording   Repertoire   Video Samples   Concerts

  Lest we forget, 17th Century America was already home to music from three continents: Africa, Europe and the New World itself. Music of three complex cultures soared side by side from the very inception of what became America and the United States. American Rhapsody presents beautiful and compelling performances of these melodies, recorded for vinyl records, CD and digital distribution, with performances in Washington, DC, Rome, Italy and New York City.

The program is populated by 16th and 17th century Native American, African and European music, providing a side-by-side experience that becomes a revelation for the listener.

Notes on the Recording
Available on all Streaming Services
Purchase Vinyl Records and CD’s

  Following the regime upheaval, political and religious mayhem, witch burnings, wars, and assassinations of the Reformation, a new breed of European explorer emerged. Survivors of political and religious persecution headed to North America to find relief, pursued by disease and death both mid- journey and upon arrival in the New World. These were often profoundly pious, humble folk who confronted their own mortality, as well as that of their families on a daily basis.

  How these godly, devout pilgrims wound up destroying or marginalizing hundreds of indigenous nations and importing 12 million Africans into slavery has yet to be satisfactorily explained. We cannot solve that question, but we will simply address the parallel cultural phenomena represented by the music of three divergent cultures that could not have been more dissimilar.

  Locating records of native American music at the time of the European arrival is not an easy task. We were pleased to find transcriptions of music of that period from Nova Scotia to Brazil through the research of historian Victoria Lindsay Levine. Transcriptions by Portuguese, British and French explorers, including lyrics and European-style settings of the melodies for vocal ensembles are found in Writing Native American Music, 2002

  Actual transcriptions of African music of the same time period were even more difficult to find but include at least two important sources by contemporary explorers. The first was the Irish explorer and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, (1660-1753) who ordered transcriptions of African melodies during his travels to Haiti in the mid-17th century. These transcriptions have been further collected and amplified by the Musical Passage project and enhanced by publication by Mary Caton Lingold and others in her 2023 publication African Musicians in the Atlantic World: Legacies of Sound and Slavery.

  The second African source is the work of the English writer Thomas Edward Bowdich (1791-1824), author of Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, 1819. Bowdich includes transcriptions, some with texts, of two dozen African melodies of Ashanti, Kerrapi, Fantee, Mallowa, Empoöngwa, Imbekee and Mosee populations. Bowdich's writings are thoroughly examined in the indispensable The Music of Black Americans by Howard University Professor Eileen Southern.

  The European musical component was already a work in progress, a result in part of the Reformation: Age of Mayhem recordings, and concerts in London, Berlin and Prague. King Henry VIII himself contributes a melody. There is also a German hymn and a 16th century French song, "A Moment Lost", (L'Occasion Manquée) that made its way to Quebec. The French song was revived by Julien Tiersot in his Forty-Four French Folk Songs and Variants--from Canada, Normandy, and Brittany, published in 1910.

The Repertoire


Der Mayen (The Month of May)
Herzlich tut Mich Verlangen
Katzenpfote (The Cat's Foot)
Pastime with Good Company
A Moment Lost

Native American

Peyote Drinking Song
Lullaby for a Nursing Baby
Gambling Song
Trois chansons des Americains


Ashantee Melody
Mamadou Batiki


1562 German Folk Song
1600 German Folk Song & Hymn
1480 German Folk Song
1513 Henry VIII, composer
16th Century French & Canadian Folk Song

Transcribed: 1670
Recorded: 1927
Ute Nation
Transcribed 16th Century
Transcribed 1877
Transcribed 1557, Brazil

Haiti-mid 17th century
Haiti-mid 17th century
Haiti-mid 17th century
Mamadou Diabate, Burkina Faso 2010
18th Century, Ghana traditional
Gambia traditional

Video Samples

Lullaby for a Sleeping Baby (Cheyenne)
Der Mayen (The Merry Month of May, German, 1480)
Illinois Song (transcribed 1670)
Dagna (composed by Mamadou Diabate, Burkina Faso)
Trois Chanson des Americaines (Native, Brazil, transcribed 1557
Koromanti (African: Haiti) mid 17th century

The Concerts

Decatur House Museum
Mon, November 4, 2024 at 7pm
748 Jackson Pl NW
Washington, DC 20006

Mezzrow Jazz Club
Monday, December 9, 2024 at 7:30 and 9:00pm
7th Avenue & 10th St
New York, NY 10014