Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. (1937-2016)

by Guthrie P. Ramsey, series editor for Music of the African Diaspora

Image via Columbia College

Sam Floyd, a prolific scholar and founding director of the Center for Black Music Research, passed away on July 11, 2016 in Chicago. Among his astonishing catalogue of accomplishments, Sam was the founding editor of Music of the African Diaspora, a series at the University of California Press. In this capacity, he sought out and curated a list of authors, whose topics covered the geographies of the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe and a multiplicity of genres such as jazz, gospel, Latin music and concert music.

I had the great fortune of being one of Sam’s authors in the series. I learned much from that experience. Although Sam was a visionary leader in every regard, another one of his singular strengths—perhaps, even superpower—was his desire and ability to collaborate. It was a talent that made him a natural editor. By example and through his kind but decisive words, he encouraged those around him to be their best. It’s rare to experience someone with as many administrative and scholarly projects in motion as Sam did have the inclination to guide the work of other scholars. Yet he did this consistently and successfully, earning him the deepest level of respect from colleagues around the world.

The establishment of the series indicates (and will continue to reflect) not only Sam’s interest in the African Diaspora but also his belief in interdisciplinary inquiry. One of his impactful contributions to the broader field of American music includes his use of the term “black music research,” a pre-hashtag phrase that I believe expressed some of the political urgency of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. As he began to institutionalize his ideas through scholarship, fundraising and organizing, many joined his call. Composers, musicians of all stripes, music educators, music historians, ethnomusicologists, and music theorists, among others, attended the Center’s biannual conferences. They joined in with the common purpose of approaching black music research with the seriousness and comradery that Sam modeled. A gifted convener, Sam convinced established music societies to meet in conjunction with the Center for Black Music Research. The cross-fertilization of ideas that resulted through the years certainly can be felt in the books published in the Music of the African Diaspora series and in every corner of music scholarship.

When his work took a “theoretical” turn in the early 1990s, he applied the insights of poststructuralism, history and literary theory to black music research. This move culminated in a groundbreaking article on the ring shout ritual and his Call-Response concept, the imprint of which is now considered fundamental to black music studies. The passing of time will teach us more about the powerful influence Samuel Floyd’s exemplary scholarship, professionalism, generosity and activism had on American, Caribbean and African music studies. As someone who has felt that power directly on both the professional and personal level for the last thirty years, I can testify that it will be, without doubt, immeasurable.

2 thoughts on “Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. (1937-2016)

  1. Truly a giant has fallen. Thank you for this tribute to Sam Floyd. I was privileged to benefit from his generosity and able mentoring. As you so aptly state, his influence will continue to grow.

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