This October, Bear Family Records, a record company in Germany specializing in compilations and box sets of historic records and other sound documents, will releasing a landmark new compilation called Black Europe. An uprecedented look at an under-appreciated cohort, the collection will include two hardcover coffee table books in full color, each containing images and documents detailing the lives of hundreds of black politicians, performers, actors, and entertainers from all over the world who were active in Europe from the 1880s to the late 1920s.
However, even more exciting than the books, the collection contains 44 CDs – yes, you read that right FORTY FOUR CDs – of rare sound recordings, many of which will be made available for the first time. These CDs include recordings from public archives in France and Germany; incredibly rare ethnic recordings that may have been released commercially, but of which only a handful of copies still remain; and African-American music that was commercially released and was collected from private archives.
These recordings show the beginning of the record industry and the role that black Europeans had in its early years. Some of these recordings would be of special interest to jazz historians, who could hear some of the first recorded examples of stride piano and scat singing. Others – especially those interested in African music – would enjoy hearing some of the first-known recordings of African languages and folk music, which are also included in this collection.
The 500-copy edition of the box set will be released in October and can be pre-ordered on the website for Black Europe. It’s quite pricey, but worth checking out for those (institutions?) interested in the history of jazz, African music, and the recording industry. Regardless, the mere fact of the set’s existence makes us happy. Covetous perhaps, but happy none-the-less.