Exclusive: New York school bans Debussy works

Exclusive: New York school bans Debussy works


norman lebrecht

March 04, 2021

This is from the Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center in NYC:




  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Unacceptable, presumably, as ‘Golliwog’ is mis-spelt and the other is in a foreign language, a sure sign of cultural decadence.

    • Marfisa says:

      Wiki-pedant here. The original Golliwogg doll had two g’s. Debussy’s original name for Le petit nègre was The Little Nigar [sic].

      • La plus belle voix says:

        Quite. No idea why anyone would dislike you presenting facts. Maybe others have alternative ones.

        • Educator says:

          It’s best that Jews instruct blacks on what they represent.

          “You Are Not A Nigger: Our True History, The World’s Best Kept Secret”

          • Rogerio says:

            Picture this;
            A Conservative Conservatoire in Mississippi.
            A piano recital for the kids, parents in the audience…
            The master of ceremonies:
            “And now, 10 year-old Billy-Bob will treat us to “The Little Nigar”.
            KKK members in the audience start to laugh so hard the show has to be interrupted. A progressive mother faints, a black father protests, the local head of the Proud Boys yells “this ain’t funny!!!”, a granny chokes on her chewing tabacca… gets the heimlick from the Pastor …
            My conclusion:
            F**** Debussy. He ain’t worth the damage to the furniture.

          • Lycan says:

            I hope you are joking because Debussy’s works span more than what are presented here. In spite of the names that society now considers inappropriate, they are still pieces of music that under
            a different name, would have been accepted in this school. Call me ridiculous for taking this too seriously, but I think we should understand the context of which this was written before criticising it based on today’s standards.

          • Jack says:

            “I think we should understand the context of which this was written before criticising it based on today’s standards.”

            Sorry, but that’s too much to ask nowadays.

          • Lycan says:

            That’s what’s so frustrating with today’s cancel culture. I am definitely not justifying certain prejudiced and discriminatory acts and practices of some people in the past which was indeed repugnant, but the issue now is that the moment we see one word or inferred something that is unacceptable in today’s context, that subject matter would get cancelled without a ‘trial’, so to speak, and Debussy’s pieces that have references to black people in its titles are victims to these blind accusations. I am sorry for saying this, but a certain group of Americans (notice how I say ‘certain group’) are just too entitled to even bother reading up on the history of when these pieces were written and make a better judgement; they made it seem as if these pieces were just written yesterday.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Around 1900 ‘nègre’ was, in France at least, NOT a denigrating term. It was what nowadays is: ‘black’, or ‘African’. Also it is obvious that Debussy was not informed, as most people are nowadays, about colonialism and its racism; his only interest focussed upon the music from the Far East as presented at the World Fairs in Paris, which he found fascinating and which influenced his own music strongly and on a deep level. ‘Le petit Nègre’ is clearly written in love, not in racist contempt.

        In the twenties, American blacks were wildly popular, when the first true jazz ensembles landed in the Parisian night life. The word ‘nègre’ was widely used without racist overtones.

        • Anthony Sayer says:

          Try telling that to our intellectual tormentors…

        • V.Lind says:

          This is absolutely true. The word has only been deemed to be derogatory as a result of the English application of its translation (and not its literal one, which blacks themselves used until relatively recently) but its nasty diminutive. Unfortunately, the French have been caught up in the maelstrom because of the similarity of the words, and the Spanish will doubtless have something to sacrifice to American racism soon — and all the other |romance languages. The Russians and Chinese and all the others with languages Americans don’t understand will be able to go their merry way.

          Next excision: ragtime? Oops…that would wipe out the work of a beloved African-American composer!

          All this because of an American slur.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          I played both pieces with pleasure in my earlier piano studies. Children’s Corner Suite: wonderful.

        • John Borstlap says:


          Picasso’s famous painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907) was inspired by fetish art objects from Africa, which began to make furore in the Parisian art galeries. He admired the primal force of those objects and tried to emulate it, so: a gesture of admiration, respect, and being inspired by ‘black art’. Although the painting met quite some resistance at the time, it heralded a French popularity of everything African and black.


          La Création du Monde, the famous ballet by MIlhaud from the twenties, is another example of Parisian interest. And there are many more of such examples.

        • David Barach says:

          Actually, Le petit negre is a title given by later publishers. As reflected in the first edition and modern urtext, Debussy gave this piece an English title, “The Little [n-word].” It is crazy to teach this piece.

        • Rob Keeley says:

          And look at how welcome Josephine Baker was in Paris (for the most part). A wonderful little documentary about this amazing lady on Sky Arts that’s worth a watch. I bet Debussy, had he lived another 10 years, would have been a big fan of la Baker. Then there’s the 19-year old Francis Poulenc’s delectable Rhapsodie Nègre…

        • BillDee says:

          This is correct. In 1900 “Le petit nègre” would be equivalent to “Little Black Boy” in today’s vernacular.

          • Ben Sanderson says:

            Debussy named the piece “The Little Nigar” — not “Le Petit Negre,” not “Le Petit Noir.” He was supposedly influenced by American minstrel shows of the era, and by ragtime. Most here seem to be ignoring that. Sure it was normal to refer to blacks in that manner in those days. They just had to take it and be silent. I wouldn’t want my child to be subjected to that in a captive setting, such as a classroom. Let them learn the piece on their own, as many of us had to.

    • Harrumphrey says:

      Ironic, since you misspelled misspelt.

  • RVS Lee says:

    Norman – For whatever difference it makes, the Special Music School is a K – 12 (primary and secondary) school, not a college (in either US or British usage of the word.)

    • BruceB says:

      sssshhh, you’ll spoil it. We’re hoping everyone will glance at the headline only and assume he means Juilliard.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        I wonder if someone from Juilliard would dare express any opinion about it, for or against.

  • Mark says:

    Kaufman Music Center’s Lucy Moses School is a community arts school for kids. Not a college.

    • Basso Continuoso says:

      Also adults, and it has more than one program. It started as the Hebrew Arts Center, with a strong Israeli cultural connection until Lucy Moses bought the name.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    Are we ever going to address Richard Strauss and his relationship with the actual Nazi party? It is a matter of historical fact that he was appointed by none other that Goebbels himself to be the head of the Nazi state music bureau. If we’re going to purge tRumptards and flat-earthers for their associations, then Nazi musicians have to go as well. Cue the “but he wasn’t one of the bad ones”, Nazi-apologist comments in 3… 2… 1…

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible simply to rename the work, such as was done with an Agatha Christie novel?

    • John Borstlap says:

      ‘The little African’, or ‘The little African-American’ would do.

      If this is still too offensive, it may be changed into ‘The little ethnically-challenged kid’.

      • T. Hoffsteatler says:

        Just say black.

        Libs sound stupid enough when coddling and re-labeling others as it is.

        Blacks have already upgraded their usual “rebranding” of themselves from negro to colored then correctly black. NAACP didn’t buy it though… Their current popular label of African-American is more fluff as it gives them a hyphen to bolster some egos. As much as some of them openly hate America for past issues they have created baseless reparation claims for, they clearly need to drop the American part soon to gain credibility.

        They have yet to present a list of the families, religious factions like Jewish brokers and races (including their own who sold their undesirables off) to anyone. It’s still a lot of false, baseless claims using emotion over facts.

        With mentally unstable “you ain’t black” Biden as their ‘masta’ now, the next fashion label may well need to be “White-phobic” as neurotic as liberals require them to be for welfare lock. Joe won’t lift a finger to help them. It’s too bad they don’t understand that though.

        He already put down a woman at a CNN town hall event demanding his promise of full student loan dismissal be executed forthwith. These kids are too dumb to realize Joe helped put the bankruptcy laws including SLD in place years ago. Just wait until reparations come up and blacks gang up on Africans and Jews! LOL, LOL. Dumb Dems!!!!!!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Try to ignore the Intellectual Lilliputians.

  • RW2013 says:

    Does that also mean no DarkieComicOperas by Will Marion Cook, no Arthur Pryor’s “A coon band contest” or any other such gems? 🙁

  • Titurel says:

    Don’t forget Minstrels.

  • Marfisa says:

    It is sad and ironic that, while all sorts of efforts are being made to uncover historical Black presence in Europe, evidence of Black musical influence on important European composers is being air-brushed away like this, instead of being put into its contemporary context. Was Debussy racist? Discuss.
    There is a riveting BBC radio series by Clarke Peters on Black musicians in 20th century Europe, quite recently broadcast on the World Service on some NPR stations: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09kg57l. This should be compulsory listening in American music schools.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Debussy was no racist. But he shut himself off from all worldly concerns that had no connection with his musical project. His interest in little blacks only crept into his musical imagination through the subject of children’s picture books and his intention to write a suite for his little daughter based upon these subjects, the little sensitive girl whom he loved profoundly.

  • Roman says:

    These news are going to appear more and more often, until all white and asian composers are banned (as well as those blacks who dared to use unacceptable words, like Scott Joplin did in his “I Am Thinking of My Pickaninny Days”). LGBT+ composers would probably survive for quite a while, but not for long, since all of this is not about protection of minorities, but about unwillingness to accept high culture and education.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Western high culture, which is becoming a minority in the West, is highly admired by Asian elites, who feel deeply inspired by it.

  • JS says:

    How about “Le Petit Youpin”? Sounds better?

    • Patricia says:

      She is a college student, and the Gnu York Times has lost all credibility with many readers. The Magic Flute? Mozart as a racist? Tell her to stuff it.

  • CYM says:

    French bashing again ?

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    The stupidity of the US-American political correctness dictatorship does not have limits.

    • Uncle says:

      US Americans delivered your sorry kraut ass from the nazis, Frau.

      • AlexF says:

        The stupidity of Uncle’s comments do not have limits.

        Please, be serious.

      • Blueclarinet says:

        And that is, ladies and gentlemen, why so many people in Europe find us arrogant and ignorant. Totally out of place, Uncle.

      • Kein name - wie alle... says:

        U.S. Americans “collaborated” with the wonderful Soviet Union , hamburger eater !

      • John F Kelly says:

        I think you’ll find the Soviets were more than slightly involved as well as the British and other allies….

      • Mick the Knife says:

        That was “the greatest generation” you are referring to. What Frau is referring to is the “not so great generation”.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Americans also delivered DDR and 50 more years of Soviet Union.

      • Yes, they did, before their descendants were indoctrinated into snowflake, anti-America, and anti-patriotic culture. Whatever became of the homesteading, pioneering, family-orientated community spirit that America was forged from? Such principles are considered “deplorable” by today’s “standards.”

  • PaulD says:

    First they came for Dr. Seuss…

  • Peter says:

    Entartete Musik. Easy as that. It took 90 years for the expression to return.

  • Fenway says:

    I have downloaded the tune “Run Nigger Run” from YouTube before the culture police delete it.

  • Marlene F says:

    Debussy loved the rhythmic vitality of the cakewalk as do our students who play these pieces. Titles given more than a century ago! Can we not modify slightly to Le petit, Cakewalk or Dance rather deprive pianists from playing these works??

    • John Borstlap says:

      “Cakewalk’ has already been defined as offensive to pastry bakers, they don’t want their creations to be treated as if they are something to walk upon. The American Pastry Union has already filed a complaint against all sheet music and recordings with the offensive reference.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Or maybe even consider their titles in historical context, however subversive this idea may seem.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I see your point, Marlene F, and I almost kind of agree with you, but it wouldn’t it be even better to tell those who would wish to airbrush history just to simply ACCEPT the original tiles for what they are – artifacts of history?
      Debussy was no racist, and his titles for these lovely little works were gleaned from children’s books of the time.
      C’mon, airbrushers, can’t you just DEAL WITH IT????

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        I agree with Greg. I’m going to have to lie down for a while.

        • V.Lind says:

          So do I. For the same reason I do not want to see streets renamed, statues removed, etc.

          I wish people would just grow the hell up and realise that this is NOW, that was THEN, and the only way to discuss social change and the need for it is to stare history in the face, not to pretend it did not happen.

          I am so sick of infantilism, which has bred cancel culture, snowflakes and — my particular bugbear — trigger warnings in university classrooms (where the delicate flowers have to be warned and allowed to leave the room if they ever had a relative die in hospital before they “dare” open the pages of Erich Segal’s Love Story).

          This is a nonsense and there are lots of solutions short of removing the piece from getting taught or played.

          • Annalisa says:

            I agree with not erasing difficult historical facts. But if the goal is to acknowledge how ugly the facts are, the context they are presented in is really important.
            For example, Germany is very open about it’s history under the Nazi Party, and I’m sure they have pictures of Adolf Hitler in their textbooks and museums. But they don’t still have statues of him or streets named after Nazi party leaders. That would be putting him the same context as other famous Germans who had a positive impact on German & world history. It would not only fail to acknowledge the facts about Hitler and the Nazi party, it would deny that they are horrible. It would erase that history almost as much as ignoring it altogether.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    I prefer hate, racism, and misogyny to the thought control being imposed from the left.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Some people from that area would say that it is simply the process of education.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      I’m concerned that ten people to date have given you the thumbs-down. Says a lot.

    • Larry D says:

      You prefer hate, racism, and misogyny? Finally, an honest Republican?

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Why the American slant? There’s a big, wide world out there. Sorry you had to hear it from me.

    • Annalisa says:

      Do you mean you would prefer for them to exist if the only alternative was a leftist dystopia without freedom of speech or a free press? I mean, yeah, me too. It’s better to have those things out in the open. But they are also forms of imposed thinking. We have to learn to think in racist, misogynistic, and hateful ways. And therefore there are people who teach us, whether it’s our family, the news we listen to, or the leaders we choose.

  • SMH says:

    It’s actually quite easy to find articles that indeed spell out the racist, horrible history of both Golliwog and the cakewalk. Surely the piece should be re titled. I encourage readers to check them out:



    • Roman says:

      What’s next? Change lyrics of Bach’s cantatas so they don’t refer to Jesus Christ, which is offensive for minorities? Ban Mendelssohn and other Jews, since BLM doesn’t like Jews? How much banning, renaming and rewriting we have to do so that the history and art stop being offensive?

    • Bone says:

      Just curious: if one were to take the title away, would the music itself have merit? Or can one literally hear the racism in the melodies and harmonies? I’m new to this whole cancel culture thing so I’d appreciate any insight.

    • Herbie G says:

      Why stop there, SMH? Surely we should be destroying all images of Debussy, trashing all recordings, making bonfires of his scores, expunging any mention of his name from all academic institutions and disrupting any performances of his music – a shameless racist who should be forgotten. He also married a Jewish woman (therefore indubitably an incorrigible billionaire slave trader plotting to rule the world).

      Same for Dvorak – nothing to do with his shameless cultural appropriations in the New World Symphony but the disgusting nickname of his F major string quartet. OK – I don’t think that he gave it that nickname but that doesn’t get him off the hook because if he hadn’t written the quartet, the name would not have been applied and in such a case it would have obviated years of suffering and oppression.

      Let’s also wipe out Gilbert and Sullivan for that serenader in The Mikado.

      Let’s go for Poulenc too – don’t be fooled by his Gauloise-scented insousiance. His ‘Rhapsodie Negre’ is a shamleless parody, setting nonsensical, spurious doggerel by poets using the pseudonym ‘Makoko Kangourou’.

      Sadly though, Richard Strauss’s credentials as a Nazi racist apologist war criminal are seriously suspect. On the one hand, he did write music for the 1936 Olympics and a song, Das Bachlein, whose last line seems to be a salute to the Fuehrer. He was also appointed head of the Reichsmusikkammer. But he betrayed the cause. He was dismissed in no time after he was found to have written a letter, mocking Goebbels, to the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig. Worse still, he chose Zweig as his librettist for the opera ‘Die schweigsame Frau’ and when Goebbels’ henchmen insisted that Zweig’s name be removed from the handbills for the first performance, Strauss refused to comply. Zweig also suggested the opera ‘Friedenstag’ (Peace Day), which was premiered in 1938! Finally, Strauss was careless enough to have a Jewish daugher-in-law!

      What we need is an institution (in the USA of course) to scrutinise all classical music and deem as ‘degenerate’ any works that do not comply with the ‘diversity, sexuality, ethnicity and gender inclusiveness parameters of a multi-cultural community. I guess it should be called something like ‘The Committee for UnAmerican Music’ and should have the powers to ruin the careers of anyone implicated in the dissemination or performance of white supremacist classical music.

  • SMH says:

    “The cakewalk was a sort of dance or stepping competition for a prize of cake, sponsored by a plantation owner and featuring his own slaves who were allowed to mock the airs of their masters. This entertainment was often reproduced in minstrel shows, those horrible sentimentalizing idealizations of plantation life, featuring white actors in blackface, which were one very important influence on the creation of American musical theater. (See the covers of some of these minstrel show cakewalk publications, such as Dusky Dudes Cakewalk and Colored Aristocracy Cake Walk, both from 1899, just a few years before Debussy’s suite.)”

  • marcus says:

    I guess this is out too then-https://www.songfacts.com/facts/ernest-hogan/all-coons-look-alike-to-me

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      People might have trouble talking about that at a Yank uni any time soon. Particularly if they use the cover sheet as an advert.

  • SMH says:


    “The claim that Golliwogs are racist is supported by literary depictions by writers such as Enid Blyton. Unlike Florence Upton’s, Blyton’s Golliwogs were often rude, mischievous, elfin villains. In Blyton’s book, Here Comes Noddy Again (1951), a Golliwog asks the hero for help, then steals his car. Blyton, one of the most prolific European writers, included the Golliwogs in many stories, but she only wrote three books primarily about Golliwogs: The Three Golliwogs (1944), The Proud Golliwog (1951), and The Golliwog Grumbled (1955). Her depictions of Golliwogs are, by contemporary standards, racially insensitive. An excerpt from The Three Golliwogs is illustrative:

    Once the three bold golliwogs, Golly, Woggie, and Nigger, decided to go for a walk to Bumble-Bee Common. Golly wasn’t quite ready so Woggie and Nigger said they would start off without him, and Golly would catch them up as soon as he could. So off went Woogie and Nigger, arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song — which, as you may guess, was Ten Little Nigger Boys.(p. 51)

    Agatha Christie novel 10 Little Niggers
    Ten Little Niggers is the name of a children’s poem, sometimes set to music, which celebrates the deaths of ten Black children, one-by-one. The Three Golliwogs was reprinted as recently as 1968, and it still contained the above passage. Ten Little Niggers5 was also the name of a 1939 Agatha Christie novel, whose cover showed a Golliwog lynched, hanging from a noose.”

    • M McAlpine says:

      We know that today the terms have racist connotations but when my comic annual around 65 years ago had an illustrated rhyme ’10 little niggers’ urging children to take care on the road it wasn’t intended to be racist. Similarly, when we used to collect golliwog badges off the jam we had no idea of racism. ‘Gollies’ were just a fun doll that a boy could have as well as a girl. I can see today why their presence is not considered desirable but please don’t accuse a previous generation of being racists. We weren’t! Nothing was further from our mind. And, before someone says it, we weren’t;t ‘unconscious racists’ either.

      • Like others my age, in my youth I certainly knew those who had cherished their Gollies in their own youth. They weren’t racist, but neither were they really aware of racism at the time they grew attached to their toys.

  • fred says:

    but how does negre translate into English : negro right? Not nigger…Can’t I say negro spirituals anymore either? Holy baloney to this we’ve come, the new fascists have arrived

    • Joe Pearce says:

      They’ve been here a good while now. You just haven’t been paying attention! It started at least as far back as when they tried to get HUCKLEBERRY FINN banned from the schools and libraries, and now, just prior to this Debussy business, they’ve been trying to remove names like Washington and Lincoln from public schools named after them. Much of it is hypocritical. Paul Robeson refused to sing the ‘n’ word at the beginning of “Old Man River”, when he first appeared in SHOW BOAT, but he had previously become famous in the O’Neill play THE EMPEROR JONES, which is replete with the ‘n’ word from beginning to end, and he had no trouble with the word then.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Oh yes, and how.

  • Patricia says:

    What’s so special about it?

  • Scott says:

    Will the title of John Lennon’s song be changed to Woman is The N word of the World?

  • La plus belle voix says:

    It is interesting to read what the Debussy scholar and performer, Paul Roberts has to say about the two pieces referred to here. (Sorry for long post.)

    Paul Roberts. Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Amadeus Press, Portland OR, 1996, pp. 214-ff.

    “The origins of the cake-walk are complex. It appears to have originated as a slow, high-kicking dance by black workers on the American cotton plantations – imitating and parodying the polite elegance of white dancers. […] By the time the american band leader John Philip Sousa began popularizing the cake-walk in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, the genre had become mixed up with ragtime (of equally obscure origin) and indeed with any music based on dance rhythms and syncopated marches and thought to convey the flavor of black America. […]

    “According to most authorities, the cake-walk was danced to slow ragtime. Ragtime itself was a form of syncopated piano music, close in style to the march, that originated in saloon bars and bordellos and became hugely popular through printed sheet music. Yet there were instrumental rags and even vocal rags, as well as a host of upbeat and jazzy dance pieces entitled ‘rag’ or ‘cake-walk’ emanating from New York’s Tin Pan Alley publishers. The first published rags appeared in American in 1897. Debussy, like Stravinsky, might have known ragtime from these publications, which soon began to proliferate in Europe […]

    “The time signature of ragtime was usually two-four. In its least sophisticated style, the music was characterized by a strongly syncopated right-hand rhythm set against the left hand’s march-like beat. This is the style Debussy reproduced so unerringly in ‘Golliwogg’s Cake-walk,’ onto which he grafted his humorous sense of Chouchou’s doll enacting the dance. (It is also the style of his tiny piano piece ‘The Little Nigar,’ written in 1909 for a child’s piano method.) Whether a true reflection of ragtime or not, this justly celebrated piece captures the irrepressible life of popular entertainment, of music hall and vaudeville, to which Deubssy returned in the preludes ‘Minstrels’ and ‘General Lavine.’ […]

    “By one of those strange quirks of history, American minstrel troupes were then reintroduced to Europe and it was one such, busking in the streets of Eastbourne in the south of England during Debussy’s summer vacation of 1905, that was supposed to have inspired ‘Minstrels.’

    “But in ‘Minstrels’ we can see that Debussy, as so often, has gone beyond his original inspiration. he projects his experience of minstrels bands onto the more familiar terrain of the fairground, the circus, and the music hall, to create a collage of popular entertainment. The reference of ‘Minstrels’ are manifold. The music alludes unmistakably to the tones of a barrel organ, or perhaps a piano roll (measurers 28-31), complete with rapid repeated-note motif and the suggestion of a turning handle; the clowning, in the passage marked moqueur (mockingly), where the clown seems to be enacting some kind of spooks-behind-the-door scene, ending with a screech of fright and his hair standing upright (at measure 44); and to sentimental music-hall ballads, the kind of songs that encourage audience participation in the authentic music-hall manner (measures 63-74). This passage is also a reference to the crooning, wide-eyed songs of the minstrels. Notice, too, the imitation of a side-drum (quasi tamburo, measures 58-61), which alludes both to a military source of minstrelsy, and to a ubiquitous instrument of the circus ring.

    “Allusions to elements of minstrelsy, yes; and inspiration from the music of minstrelsy, decidedly, but in the context of Debussy in the beginning years of the 20th century, I don’t think one should read racism into this music.”

    That gainsaid, and on the one hand, the use of the ‘N word’ alone, even if mispelled and patently not meant as a racial slur, is hard to explain in context of a concert program, and any gloss would be too long. One could as a compromise and to avoid airbrushing history use a French title: ‘Le petit nègre’. On the other hand, we should educate children and explain things, not rewrite the past.

    As for the Golliwog (originally spelled Golliwogg), it is the least known of the major anti-black caricatures in the United States. And we should maybe read various essays by Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology at Ferris State University. He maintains: Golliwogs are grotesque creatures, with very dark, often jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, red or white clown lips, and wild, frizzy hair. Typically, it’s a male dressed in a jacket, trousers, bow tie, and stand-up collar in a combination of red, white, blue, and occasionally yellow colors. The golliwog image, popular in England and other European countries, is found on a variety of items, including postcards, jam jars, paperweights, brooches, wallets, perfume bottles, wooden puzzles, sheet music, wall paper, pottery, jewelry, greeting cards, clocks, and dolls. For the past four decades Europeans have debated whether the Golliwog is a lovable icon or a racist symbol.

    The Golliwog began life as a story book character created by Florence Kate Upton. Upton was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York, to English parents who had emigrated to the United States in 1870. She was the second of four children. When Upton was fourteen, her father died and, shortly thereafter, the family returned to England. For several years she honed her skills as an artist. Unable to afford art school, Upton illustrated her own children’s book in the hope of raising tuition money.

    In 1895, her book, entitled “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls”, was published in London. Upton drew the illustrations, and her mother, Bertha Upton, wrote the accompanying verse. The book’s main characters were two Dutch dolls, Peg and Sarah Jane, and the Golliwogg. The story begins with Peg and Sara Jane, on the loose in a toy shop, encountering “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome.” The little black “gnome” wore bright red trousers, a red bow tie on a high collared white shirt, and a blue swallow-tailed coat. He was a caricature of American black faced minstrels — in effect, the caricature of a caricature. She named him Golliwogg.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “For the past four decades Europeans have debated whether the Golliwog is a lovable icon or a racist symbol.”

      Clearly it is both, but it is innocent racism, seen through childrens’ eyes, which like mischief being done.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Any number of facts and evidence of historical awareness will never wash with those thickos (successfully) imposing their ignorance on us all.

    • Marfisa says:

      You quote from Dr David Pilgrim, who is the director of the Jim Crow Museum for Racist Memorabilia. He naturally has an agenda. He asserts unquestioningly that the golliwogg is grotesque, an anti-black caricature, based on black-face minstrel performers.

      But it is a rag doll. If you google ‘rag doll’, you quickly find, for example, Amish dolls that are made in exactly the same way as the golliwogg except they are white (and usually have no features, for religious reasons). The rag doll form is pretty basic. (I believe that research has shown that the typical features of rag dolls (including golliwogs), big eyes, big smiling mouth, round head, are what appeals to babies and young children.)

      My thought is that some nineteenth-century white mothers made black rag dolls as well as white ones for their children, probably to encourage them not to despise or fear black people. (I wonder if anybody has researched the sort of rag dolls black mothers made?) These dolls were all home-made, until Kate Upton’s book named and made popular the black rag doll Golliwogg, after which golliwogs were commercially manufactured.

      Pilgrim quotes selectively only one line from the book, giving the impression of a racial slur. What follows in the story shows this was not the intention. Elsewhere Pilgrim says “He (golliwog) was often drawn with paws instead of hands and feet” so that he “was a cross between a dwarf-sized black minstrel and an animal.” But white rag dolls are made in exactly the same way!

      Pilgrim finds golliwog ugly and grotesque. That is his judgment. I find him rather endearing.

      Jim Crow racism is a horrible fact, not to be denied. But the current anti-racist ideology makes almost everything racist, often with the merest cursory glance at historical facts. And it encourages a sort of paranoid resentment, which is not a healthy state of mind.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    Disgusting. I used to teach there, and the director was a harridan. Cakewalk’s are not racist. One could alter the title.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    Imagine having your teaching repertoire dictated to you by management. Unthinkable.

    • My E string says:


      Imagine your opinions controlled by a group of people who decide if your opinion is insulting, offensive, retrogade, old-fashioned etc. and impose their ways and ideas insulting, shaming and crucifying on social media and other e-channels anyone who does not think like them, to the point where you are afraid to speak your mind freely. Oh, wait, that is happening in the western world right now…!

  • MacroV says:

    I can see why those are problematic, but only the titles – the music is charming. Maybe just re-name them? Cakewalk and The Child?

    • Alext says:

      I don’t see why those are problematic, since they are pieces written on the standards of >100 years ago.

      Should we judge everything of the past on 21st century’s values? Books such as The Bible would be in trouble.

    • Bone says:

      I guarantee the sounds themselves would cause convulsions among the Woke.

    • Bone says:

      Why? Do the melodies truly elicit feelings of hatred and oppression to you? Maybe – and this is a stretch – the listener can get past the painful associations of the titles if the performer were to not name them at all.
      Just spitballin’ here. You seem quite upset and I am, again, unfamiliar with the cancel narrative that you and so many others espouse.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    What about the string quartet the Arditti boys keep playing, as below ?


  • Mannfried says:

    Censoring Art? Maybe burn some books too, the right ones only. Maybe censor inappropriate band names such as Pussy Riot. Wonderful idea to start cleansing our country, maybe then we will become winners. I want to puke now.

  • Gustavo says:

    Here’s another one to enjoy – also known as Negro Dance.


    Exoticism and orientalism is rather common in western classical music – but is this really racism?

    I call it cultural diversity.

  • Oded says:

    Well, anyone that enrolls into this school desrvfes this kind of education.

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    Oh so sad that Debussy’s Cake-Walk, Le Petit Negre and Minstrels could be side-lined. I sympathise with the thought that offence is caused by the titles, and indeed have found myself taking care not to recommend the pieces to black students, but so often have told students in general that these pieces are manifestations of Debussy’s love of this musical genre and its artists. He causes offence to Mr Pickwick and the British in another Prelude – but it’s so funny. And what a magnificent stab at Tristan und Isolde within that Cake Walk itself! At least nobody has yet said that En blanc et noir must be scrubbed. Debussy was a genius.

  • Joe Pearce says:

    Some two decades or more back, Thomas Hampson did some recitals of Stephen Foster songs and recorded a CD of them on BMG/RCA. It was a semi-ridiculous undertaking because any of the songs that had even one word that might be termed racist or ‘hurtful’ was not sung by him, but simply played by an instrumental group. Since these included some of Foster’s most famous songs, like “Oh Susannah” and “My Old Kentucky Home”, it seems never to have occurred to anyone that they could just change a word or two in the lyrics and preserve a song that was just as beautiful, and had exactly the same meaning. Without any lyrics, the songs were meaningless. For example, the second line of “Kentucky” reads, “Tis summer, the Darkies are gay”, which could easily have been changed to “Tis summer, the young folks are gay”, “Tis summer, and everyone’s gay”, or “Tis summer, and life is so gay” – choose your own words. Instead, they eschewed the words completely, making the songs meaningless except as pretty or catchy melodies, for which we hardly needed Thomas Hampson at all! But that was almost a generation ago. Now, if they used even one of the proposed changes, the Cancel Culture would come along and find fault with a song that presumes to tell the world that homosexuality in the old Kentucky home was confined only to the summer months. After all, that’s when the young folks are gay, isn’t it? God help us all!

  • It seems no one remembers the most popular of Dvorak’s string quartets being renamed the ‘American’. I don’t remember any fuss about it, it just seemed a sensible thing to do.

  • Pino Mirandola says:

    This is a silly and ill informed decision. Will we have a score burning next?

  • SVM says:

    This is an outrageous act of censorship! I trust that the teachers and pupils will find one or more creative solutions to circumvent it (whether openly or subtly) and ensure that these two works can still be heard. Some ideas:

    *play them as an unannounced encore;

    *if feeling brave, “do a Barenboim” and announce the encore of the taboo pieces, offering any offended audience members ample opportunity to leave without hearing the encore (this is how Barenboim used to approach performing Wagner in Israel);

    *play them under a different title (e.g.: use the name of the collection from which the works are drawn, movement numbers, and/or tempo markings — I will refrain from posting these here, in order not to facilitate the censors’ attempts at enforcing bans);

    *mount a concert including the censored pieces without advertising (any part of) the programme;

    *mount an unofficial, ‘wildcat’, or off-campus concert (such the school does not have any control or jurisdiction) consisting of multiple performers taking it in turns to play the censored pieces;

    *if a teacher is questioned on why a pupil played the pieces, insist that…

    –> …the pieces were only “recommended”, and certainly not “assigned” (in my own teaching, I may “assign” technical exercises/studies/scales/&c., but I view the process of selecting repertoire as a collaborative exercise with the pupil — where a pupil is preparing for an examination, I almost always get him/her to choose the pieces, after having demonstrated a wide selection of options from the syllabus and having explained the nature of each piece’s musical and technical demands… sometimes, I may “recommend” a piece or “recommend” *against* a piece, but I do not generally “assign” pieces)

    –> …the pupil brought them to lessons on his/her own initiative (the message appears to have been sent only to teachers — if a pupil is advanced enough to be playing these two pieces, he/she is advanced enough to be selecting his/her own repertoire independently at least some of the time — in any case, I would argue that even beginners should have some say in what pieces they play — and that it would be unprofessional and unethical for a teacher to ‘veto’ a pupil’s freely made choice for political reasons)

    –> …the pupil never brought them to lessons and never consulted the teacher about them (when I was a teenager, I often used to learn pieces by myself behind my teacher’s back, and even used to perform them in public without seeking permission from my teacher);

    *compose a work that alludes to or quotes from the banned pieces (just as the middle section of ‘Golliwogg’s Cakewalk’ alludes to /Tristan und Isolde/, one of Barenboim’s favourite sources for controversial encores) — since Debussy is out of copyright, this would be perfectly legal;

    *teachers could resign citing a principled stance against censoring what a pupil can and cannot play for political reasons, and “do a Jeffrey Wynn Davies” by inciting pupils to defect from the school (or continue with the same teacher by taking private lessons outside the school); or

    *if feeling brave enough to become a martyr, “do a Shaun Hern Lee” and openly defy the censorship within the school (either by ignoring it or by deliberately “assigning” the censored pieces as often as possible), thus placing the onus upon management to “take off the velvet gloves” and enforce their outrageous censorship.

    Bring it on! The world is watching…

  • Nick says:

    This is what the radical Left fascism is ALL ABOUT! And it rules the world now.

  • Miko says:

    After a few days off, Lebrecht’s racist “happy hour” is back.
    Some of the commentary on here is disgusting…and passes your (selective) censorship Mr Lebrecht. It speaks volumes.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Yes, it does, and for all the right reasons. Norman believes in…debate! Yes, that word the left wants to consign to the dustbin of history. Have a look at the MP for Nottingham East while you’re about it.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Interesting that the consensus in these comments is entirely about the works’ (or composer’s) intentions, without a thought to how they’re received by anyone who might be hurt by them (except for the implied denigration of anyone who might be hurt by them). I don’t see similar denigration of the Holocaust survivors whose continuing pain the tacit Israeli ban on playing Wagner in public seeks to mitigate — I wonder why that is?

    There may come a time when pieces such as these by Debussy no longer can cause pain: when racism and residual inequalities are things of the historical past. When that time comes — the sooner, the better — I’m sure that a children’s music program will be happy to reintroduce them, in such a way that they can teach a historical as well as musical lesson.

    • Marfisa says:

      Is ‘not to cause pain’ really the purpose of education? There is some onus on educators to help students examine and question these matters (taking current ideology into account), and discover something about French culture over 100 years ago.

      Teachers should educate, students should be able to learn about uncomfortable things and how to respond to them. Mathein pathein: to learn is to suffer/to suffer is to learn. Simply removing anything historical that causes pain does nothing to further racial harmony and universal equality.

  • Alex Croxton says:

    For those who do not know, Special Music School is a select public K-8 school with a partnership with the Kaufman Center to provide a very small grade of like minded professionally musically minded kids with a rigorous academic environment combined an accelerated musical environment with 2 lessons per week (sponsored by Kaufman) with 2 graded juries a year of repertoire and technical routines. This is indeed a school for a specific type of motivated, musically entrenched and hard working kid/family.

    I happen to teach at this institution and applaud this decision. I have to say, I do find curious the lack of nuance in much of the criticism. For one, no one is saying this music shouldn’t be played, that Debussy is necessarily racist and that this discussion should never happen. That would be, as with most things in history a discussion of nuance, social climate of the time and context. What they are saying (or at least my take) is that when these pieces are presented (which is often very early grades at this school), explaining this context, at that age is perhaps not the place. I can’t tell you how many times I have cringed seeing this title (Le Petite Negre) and then in the student/peer audience a child of color (usually between the ages of 6 and 10) listening and reading.What does that feel like reading this without any explanation? A caricature of you, your race?

    No, censoring art is not ok (and that’s not what this is – there are still venues and places to hear these pieces) but context DOES matter. What if the title was Le Petite Jew, or fairy, or any Asian abbreviation that that is no longer used? To me this is just common sense and respecting the larger audience and cultural/ethnic make up that is the school.

    Thank you Kaufman Center!

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Your school no longer allows these pieces to be played. That is called censorship, whatever yardstick one uses.

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        And your disgust at this lobotomised censorship has earned you more thumbs-down than up. Bravo, cretins.

    • Guest says:

      Thank you Alex Croxton. A very sensible, reasonable explanation and breath of fresh air on this page.

    • fred says:

      before you teach learn French nègre is not the N word it is negro but apparently that is now also off limits, as said the new fascists have arrived…and don’t these black rappers constantly use the N word, ar ethey censured? Poor Debussy had an endearing title to this piece, sort of the little negro boy, what is wrong with that?

    • Viktor says:

      What is wrong with ” Le Petite Jew” ? Or Mongol? Or Armenian ?

  • Chris Daisley says:

    I wonder what Nazi music critics thought of the parody of Tristan and Isolde in Golliwog’s Cakewalk, let alone the Cakewalk itself? Perhaps in a parallel universe they are doppelgaengers of the School Board

    • John Borstlap says:

      They never noticed the parody since they did not know Tristan. They never seriously listened to the opera where no arians are celebrated and the protagonists go down after unintentionally drinking a harmful potion.

  • Edoardo says:

    I am waiting for a worldwide ban of Wagner’s music…times are ripe for this.

  • Horbus Rohebian says:

    Presumably this institution would also ban Samuel Coleridge -Taylor’s Op.59 ‘Twenty Four Negro Melodies for Piano’?

  • Autumn V says:

    SMS really is a community music school with mediocre skills (all for their college CVs) so getting caught up on all this nonsense makes perfect sense. Not so special.

  • Mecky Messer says:

    They clearly dont like De-bussy. Especially if a PIaNIST touches De-bussy. Especially if De-bussy had anything to do with the black community. De-bussy is then no good.

    They prefer the BACH to De-bussy.

    One wonders why.

  • I fail to understand this “progressive” fuss.

  • french horn says:

    OMG ! And all this american madness is invading Europe right now … american “soft power” at its worst …

  • Peter X says:


    Clutsam, George Howard: Berceuse nègre
    John Powell: Rhapsodie nègre for piano & orchestra, Elégie nègre
    Francis Poulenc : Rapsodie Nègre
    Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963) : “Rapsodia Negra” for piano and orchestra (1943)
    Ivan Devriès: Trois mouvements symphoniques sur des rythmes de jazz: Rhapsodie nègre
    Alexandre Tansman, Le petit nègre (from: Pour les enfants)
    Cinco canciones negras by Xavier Montsalvatge.
    William Dawson – Negro Folk Symphony (1934)
    Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. One of the earliest cinematic explorations of African-American culture for a mass audience. It features Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
    Roy Harris: from symphony nr 4 “Folksong”: Negro Fantasy Fela Sowande : African Suite / The Negro In Sacred Idiom (1951, 1952)
    Shostakovich: The Golden Age – Dance of the Negro and the White Man (Act I)
    Gottschalck: Le Bananier, Op. 5 “Chanson nègre”
    Dieu Est Nègre · Juliette Gréco

    • John Borstlap says:

      “All to be put on the index of the inquisition.”

    • Golda says:

      We could add:
      Dvorak “New World”
      Busoni “Indian Fantasie
      Busoni “Indian Diary”
      Puccini “Turandot”
      McDowell “Indian Sketches”
      Chasens “Traffic Jam in Hong Kong”.
      Mussorgski “Pictures at an Exhibition” (because of the anti-Semitic caricature)

      The movie “King and I”. Hundreds of movies, where they simply cast any dark-skinned person as an Asian–a racist stereotype. Also “Casablanca”….. It never ends.

  • Guest says:

    What if someone wanted to perform the complete children’s corner suite the Cakewalk is the big finish — would you just stop early?

  • Isaac Malitz says:

    Misleading wording in your headline, Norman. You know better.

  • Eugene Kaplan says:

    It’s just much easier to rename the piece as a Cakewalk

  • Richard Zencker says:

    Didn’t Erik Satie already do this joke? “Danse maigre (à la manière de ces messieurs)” from Croquis et agaceries d’un gros bonhomme en bois (1913)

  • Herbie G says:

    …and here’s another Danse Negre from another composer – whom I consider a genius. His loss at the age of 37 was a tragedy. This should cheer you up in these pandemic-cursed days.

  • Marfisa says:

    Here is The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a ‘Golliwogg’, complete with illustrations: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16770/16770-h/16770-h.htm

    This is the book that Debussy’s little daughter might have read (but I don’t know if there was a French translation).

    Golliwogg, as soon as he appears, quickly becomes the likeable central character and hero. The Dutch dolls are just as much ‘caricatures’ of white women as Golliwogg is of a black man. There is at least one other black doll (female) in the story. A black minstrel is also portrayed, with banjo – a markedly different image from Golliwogg.

    What might really enrage some American citizens is the cutting up of the Stars and Stripes to make dresses for the dolls!

    I would be interested to know if a child of color, without being prompted by adults, would find (or have found) this hurtful. As a small white child I had a golliwog, of which I was very fond (he was top of the doll class that I taught, with blue rabbit at the bottom) but I never thought he was a caricature of my black friends – he was just a toy doll.

  • Billy says:

    The cancel culture is becoming an accepted norm so what will be next? Beethoven Brahms etc.- I am sure they will find something that offends and we will be a generation with no history of any remembrance.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Clearly this:

      Beethoven – child abuse (drove his nephew to a suicide attempt)

      Brahms – mysoginy (sarcastic remarks to women in company, and secretly visiting prostitutes)

  • Mike says:

    Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition has a piece about two unsympathetic Jews. As far as I know, no one has objected to that

    • John Borstlap says:

      You should have kept this quiet.

    • Veda H Zuponcic says:

      Plenty of us are uncomfortable about that….I’m not sure it should be struck from the set, but I’ve at least considered it.

    • Veda H Zuponcic says:

      An addendum to my earlier comment: Try teaching Rich Jew, Poor Jew. First you have to be truly knowledgable about the anti-Semitic climate of Russia at that time, and comfortable discussing it. Then, you have to tell the poor, hapless college student to “make the poor Jew more whiny, more annoying” and “make the Rich Jew more pompous, more arrogant.” This is an ugly business, and as much as I love “Pictures”, this is way beyond awkward. How about just calling it Poor Russian, Rich Russian? I wouldn’t mind–it would be less offensive.

  • Selina88 says:

    What has happened to the human race??? Such idiocy. So I’m a human rac-ist.

  • Annalisa says:

    I think the truth is that, while Debussy didn’t intend to write racist pieces, in these cases the inspirations for the song were racist–specifically the image of the golliwogg and the plantation cakewalk done by slaves. Saying he was racist isn’t the same as saying he was an evil person. Nearly every white American and European at the time was racist. Even most abolitionists were racist. They were against slavery, but they weren’t about to vote for Thomas Douglas.

    Maybe the best approach is to teach students about the history of these pieces and then let them decide whether they still want to play them.

  • Simon Broughton says:

    I’m pretty sure I played Golliwogg’s Cake Walk for an Associated Board piano exam, back in the day. These pieces are of their time.
    I’m glad to see pianist Samantha Ege releasing a CD on March 9 of the four Fantasie Negre pieces by (black) American composer Florence Price. And also performing a streamed concert on March 8 (International Women’s Day) including two of Price Fantasie Negre and Nora Douglas Holt’s ‘Negro Dance’ to be streamed on the TORCH YouTube Channel!

  • Veda H Zuponcic says:

    I’ve read many of these comments and am truly shocked at their provincialism. We live in a big broad world today, and some of our neighbors, friends, and students are not white! I don’t even want to think about having to put Le petit negre on a program….I haven’t taught it for 30 years! And when I have taught Golliwog, I spend half of the lesson discussing the evils of slavery, and the insulting story-line in this piece. This isn’t censorship–it is just common sense. I just taught a semester of Piano Pedagogy, and told my students that I was surprised people are still teaching these pieces. If you wouldn’t assign it to a young Black student, you shouldn’t assign it to a white kid, either. I suspect that SMS has many foreign-born teachers who might not be sensitive to these issues and needed to be told to find something else to teach……and the possibilities are just about endless, as everyone here knows.

  • Bernard Jacobson says:

    In 1968 (some years after Political Correctness first called for sanitizing the title of a popular Agatha Christie novel, and before certain texts in Bach’s Saint John Passion began to undergo the same process) Beveridge Webster, offering a three-concert series that was billed as the first complete survey of Debussy’s piano works in New York, came face to face with the problem presented for sensitive performers and audiences by “Le Petit Nègre.” Whether or not he may be imagined to have thrown up his hands in despair of finding a perfect solution, he ended by taking the easy way out: his series was indeed nearly complete – but “Le Petit Nègre” was simply left out.

  • I feel strongly that it is not the place of schools to ban pieces based on a desire for political correctness. Banning music, burning books, censorship–this is for dictators, for the Soviet Union, for Nazi Germany, for religious bigots. These wonderful Debussy pieces were not written with any racist intent, on the contrary. Of course, students must learn and understand the historical context and to appreciate the terrible damage that stereotypes and racism can cause and still do cause: but it is the purpose of education and teachers to help students see and understand the context, not to ban.

    The argument that “there are plenty of other piano pieces” is not valid. One could ban Dostoevsky for his anti-Semitism and say the same thing. Or even Dickens for Fagin in “Oliver Twist”. Where will it stop?…

  • Cathy Schwartz says:

    Ridiculous! I totally stand by the comment If we continue to censor artists and historical events,
    we may face a distorted understanding of history and culture

  • Ella Zibitsker says:

    We are in a fight with racism and antisemitism in any shape and form. How can you explain a black kid that a famous person is above the criticism for being a racist or antisemitic because s/he was/is a genius? I believe that first and most important quality is being a decent human being. Wagner’s music was banned in Israel for almost 50 years just for being associated with Nazism. When the nation decided they are healed from the past and is ready to accept it, they brought it back.

  • Alla Fabrikant says:

    What a joke! And what a tragedy.. 2 wonderful pieces by Debussy??? The 1st one has the different name “Cakewalk#1” – is an excellent piece for little kids! And “Golliwog’s Cake”? What is wrong with that name?I am a piano teacher and would never stop giving this 2pieces to my students!! Never!! Am I back to the Soviet Union? 30 years ago we came to this beautiful free country- the country of our dreams for so many years.. We run away from that socialism, that craziness – please, don’t destroy the best country in a whole world!

  • David says:

    Finally! Someone is considering the impact of these racist titles and how they affect our minority artists. Congratulations to Special Music School for taking a stand!

  • ALP says:

    Wow, I’m surprised at the lack of historical understanding, and at the resistance to rethinking our attitudes around race and culture in many of these comments. The Golliwog doll on which Debussy partially based his title, is a very offensive figure, in the way that “Little Black Sambo” is. Certainly, the title should be modified. Whether we need to exclude this music is another question. Cultural appropriation in music is deeply embedded and enriching. This is a difficult topic worthy of serious discussion.