Maud Cuney-Hare, early black musicologist and musician
Any mention of precursors of African-American musicologists is incomplete if Maud Cuney-Hare is not listed. Before Eileen Southern and D. Antoinette Handy won in the category, there was Maud Cuney Hare. Born February 16, 1874 in Galveston, Texas, she was the daughter of Adelina Dowdy and Norris Wright Cuney, a mixed-race couple, although her father was of predominantly white ancestry.
Her father was one of eight Métis children of Adeline Stuart, who was a slave housekeeper to General Philip Minor Cuney. After the war, General Cuney, one of the largest slave owners in Texas, freed her and her children. Even before the end of the Civil War, General Cuney had sent his Métis sons, Joseph and Norris, to Pittsburgh for their education. Norris later worked on steamboats on the Mississippi River and later became a leader of the Texas Republican Party. In Galveston, where Maud was born, he was appointed harbor collector of customs.
Along with his duties at the port, Norris founded a stevedoring company which employed hundreds of workers who became a union. He was also a voracious reader, including Shakespeare, and a violinist and singer of some reputation. Maud’s mother was also a gifted pianist and singer. It was in a house steeped in music and literature that Maud came of age. Inevitably, after graduating from high school at Galveston, she was accepted as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her piano teacher was Edwin Klahre and she studied theory with Martin Roeder. His literature tutoring was at the Lowell Institute at Harvard.
Maud and another Métis student, Florida Des Verney, quickly encountered complaints from other students when their ancestry came to light. A protest was mounted to have them kicked out of the dormitory. Maud and her father challenged the administration, which was under pressure from its southern white financial donors. WEB Du Bois was among the students and community members who challenged the conservatory and its attempt to exclude Maud and Florida. As Florida capitulated and continued, Maud stood firm, explaining that “I refused to leave the dormitory and because of it I was subjected to many indignities. I insisted on proper treatment.
Almost expectantly, Maud became a member of the very loud and politically aware neighborhood in which she lived in Boston. Her friendship with Du Bois which began with her supporting her challenge at the Conservatory deepened and soon she was immersed in the activities that took place at the home of Joséphine St. Pierre Ruffin. In fact, for a short time she was engaged to Du Bois who described her as “a tall imperious brunette, with golden bronze skin, shining eyes and locks of black hair”.
Maud returned to Texas after graduating from the Conservatory and began private lessons with pianist Emil Ludwig. Part of her time and working hours was devoted to students at Texas Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute for Colored Youth in the 1890s. There were also her performances at the Austin Opera where she once claimed moreover its social and political activism against the segregation of the seats which relegated the African-Americans to the balconies. On one occasion, when her request was denied, she and Ludwig canceled a concert date and performed at the Texas Institute for Colored Youths where there was no segregation.
She also taught in the Settlement House program at Institutional Church in Chicago and Prairie View, Texas in 1903 and 1904. Among the singers she collaborated with was Canadian baritone William Howard Richardson in 1913. They have toured together for 20 years, including being the first musicians of color to perform at the Boston Public Library Lecture Series. During this time, Maud launched her Allied Artists Center which encompassed a full suite of artistic activities. Although essentially a center for African American aspirants in the arts, it was open to everyone.
When not running the center, Maud was busy as a performer and composer. She wrote and directed the play “Antar of Araby” (1929) based on the Islamic poet Antar bin Shaddad with an overture composed by Clarence Cameron White and stage music by Montague Ring. As a musicologist, his interests were broad, touching on the musical and folk traditions of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. From her travels, she gathered a large amount of artifacts and musical knowledge that would later be used in her books, lectures, and teaching.
There was even a column she edited in the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, again uniting her with Du Bois, and her articles have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Musical Quarterly, and other journals. Perhaps her best-known work is “Negro Musicians and Their Music” in 1936, where she compiled a true collection of the history of African-American music. However, due to her aversion to ragtime and jazz, she did not include the music of jazz notables such as Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Despite this, celebrated pianist and arts leader Josephine Harreld Love praised him for his meticulous scholarship and considered him “an invaluable legacy of accomplished documentation.” Sadly, she never saw the full, edited version as she was crippled with cancer and died before it was published. She was first married to J. Frank McKinney, a Métis physician, but they divorced in 1902 and she was disappointed in a custody battle for their daughter, Vera. Eight years later, she would have access to her daughter before she died later that year.
Her next marriage was to William Parker Hare and it was from him that she began to put Hare in her last name. The house they settled in on Sheridan Street is marked with a plaque installed by the Bostonian Society. Her connection to Du Bois was also notable for her involvement in the historic Niagara movement, one of the organization’s first women. She also wrote a biography of her father.
Maud died in February 1936 in Boston and a memorial service was held for her and she is buried in an unmarked grave next to her father and mother in Lakeview Cemetery, Galveston, Texas.