Freedom Music

Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950

Author(s) Jen Wilson

Language: English

Genre(s): Media, Film and Theatre

  • April 2019 · 336 pages ·216x138mm

  • · Paperback - 9781786834072
  • · eBook - pdf - 9781786834089
  • · eBook - epub - 9781786834096

About The Book

This book reclaims for Wales the history and culture of a music that eventually emerged as jazz in the 1920s, its tendrils and roots extending back to slave songs and abolition campaign songs, and Swansea’s long-forgotten connection with Cincinnati, Ohio. The main themes of the book are to illustrate and emphasise the strong links between emerging African American music in the USA and the development of jazz in mainstream popular culture in Wales; the emancipation and contribution of Welsh women to the music and its social-cultural heritage; and an historical appraisal as the music journeyed towards the Second World War and into living memory. The jazz story is set amid the politics, socio-cultural and feminist history of the time from whence the music emerged – which begs the question ‘When Was Jazz?’ (to echo Gwyn A. Williams in 1985, who asked ‘When Was Wales?’). If jazz is described as ‘the music of protest and rebellion’, then there was certainly plenty going on during the jazz age in Wales.


‘In Freedom Music, archivist and pianist Jen Wilson embellishes established narratives of Welsh culture with the “blue notes” of transnational, African American and feminist histories. Her explorations of musical influences, the politics of performance practices and the social effects of cultural transference open up new areas of research. This is a wide-ranging, suitably-illustrated and engaging book that documents the cross-cultural and transatlantic dialogues that were the making of modern Wales.’
-Professor Daniel G. Williams, Swansea University

‘This ground-breaking history of jazz in Wales from its earliest days focuses on the central part women played, making extensive use of the rich archival material so meticulously preserved over the years by the author. It is also a fascinating insight into popular culture and changing social attitudes in Wales.’
-Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, President of the National Library of Wales (2011–15)

'Wilson’s style is lively and lyrical, situating the local culture, incidents and personalities that are the book’s bedrock within a larger history and the retrospective analysis of thinkers...'
- Planet Magazine

Jen Wilson 'makes a major contribution to Welsh women’s history and contributes to a growing body of work on transatlantic cultural exchange'.
- Kirsti Bohata in the Journal of British Studies.


The Life, Times and Music of Abolitionist Jessie Donaldson (1799–1889)
Doing the Plantation Walkaround Skedaddle
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in Wales, Freed Slaves and their Songs
Ragtime and the Cake Walk: On Stage and in the Workhouse
The First World War: Ragtime Trenches and Suffragettes
Cafe Society: The Jazz Age
Cutting a Rug to the Second World War: Jews and ‘Negro Morals’
Fair Treatment for the ‘Fair Sex’?

About the Author(s)

Author(s): Jen Wilson

Jen Wilson is a jazz pianist and founder of Jazz Heritage Wales, based at UWTSD Swansea.

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