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Maud Cuney-Hare

(1874—1936)


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(1874–1936), concert pianist, music lecturer, folklorist, and historian.

Maud Cuney-Hare is remembered for her literary accomplishments as a gifted playwright, biographer, and music columnist for the Crisis. Born in Galveston, Texas, on 16 February 1874, to teacher and soprano Adelina Dowdie and Norris Wright Cuney, an important Texas political figure who was the (defeated) Republican candidate for the 1875 Galveston mayoral race, Maud Cuney-Hare was educated in Texas and became musical director at the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute in Austin, Texas. She held other church and college teaching positions before returning to Boston and devoting her life to performance, scholarship, and literary pursuits. She championed the 24 May 1917 Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaging of Angelina Weld Grimké's Rachel (1916), which, according to critic Robert Fehrenbach was “the first time a play written by an Afro-American that dealt with the real problems facing American Blacks in contemporary, white, racist society was performed by entirely Black companies.” The biography she wrote about her father, Norris Wright Cuney: Tribune of the Black People (1913), suggests that he was instrumental in encouraging self-respect, courage, and resistance in his daughter, themes that emerge in her play, Antar of Araby. The biography reveals that while she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, the executive committee of the conservatory wrote Norris Cuney a letter, asking that he find another place for his daughter to live, explaining, “We have a large number of pupils who are affected by race prejudices, and the Home must be conducted so as to insure the comfort and satisfaction of the largest number possible.” Not only was her father's response heated and unequivocal but the incident galvanized students at nearby Harvard as well; W. E. B. Du Bois (at one time engaged to Maud Cuney, before her marriage to William Hare in 1906) has written of how he was one of a group of Harvard students who “rushed to her defense when the New England Conservatory of Music tried to ‘Jim Crow’ her in the dormitory.” Cuney-Hare edited an anthology of nature poems, The Message of the Trees: An Anthology of Leaves and Branches (1918). A collector of folk songs and dances, she traveled to Cuba, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Mexico documenting the African sources for much European and world music, among these, the Moorish origins of the Spanish fandango in Spain and the Afro-Cuban sources of the Haitian Meringue. “History and Song in the Virgin Islands”, a 1993 essay she wrote for the Crisis, includes a riveting account of the 1848 slave insurrection of Saint Croix, when more than five thousand slaves “stormed the fort and demanded freedom,” later burning the town down. Cuney-Hare documents the song “Queen Mary”, named for “an intrepid woman slave [who] was the Joan of Arc of the rebellion.” Her play Antar of Araby (1929) borrows from foreign legend to recount a story of a man, enslaved by his own father, whose dark skin and inferior social status are impediments to the fulfillment of his talents, his happiness, and his marriage to the woman he loves. Clearly influenced by Shakespeare's diction and themes, the drama pivots on Prince Shedad's belated recognition of Antar's worth. King Zo-heir eventually blesses Antar with the words, “God protect thee, thou black in face and fair in deeds”. In warrior service to the king, Antar discovers the royal lineage of his own mother, thus entitling him by rank to compete for his beloved Abla, the Arab chieftain's daughter; the power of the play, however, lies in the fact that his new social status is of little concern to Abla, who declares her unwavering love for Antar while he is still a slave. Maud Cuney-Hare died of cancer 13 February 1936, one month after the publication of her last major work, Negro Musicians and Their Music. The study notes African sources for African American music, with a particularly interesting section on spirituals as hymns of consolation and coded means of communication; it includes a carefully researched appendix of African musical instruments. Maud Cuney-Hare has left an important legacy; she was instrumental in establishing and documenting a musical and theatrical arts movement in Black America.

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Subjects: Literature.


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