Credit: Public Domain photo

Any mention of forerunners of African American women musicologists is incomplete if Maud Cuney-Hare is not listed. Before Eileen Southern and D. Antoinette Handy made their mark in the category, there was Maud Cuney Hare. Born Feb. 16, 1874, in Galveston, Texas, she was the daughter of Adelina Dowdy and Norris Wright Cuney, a mixed-race couple, though her father was of majority-white ancestry.

Her father was one of eight mixed-race children of Adeline Stuart, who was an enslaved housekeeper for Gen. Philip Minor Cuney. After the war, Gen. Cuney, one of the largest slaveholders in Texas, freed her and his children by her. Even before the Civil War ended, Gen. Cuney had sent his mixed-race sons, Joseph and Norris, to Pittsburgh to be educated. Later, Norris worked on steamboats on the Mississippi River and subsequently became a leader of the Texas Republican Party. In Galveston, where Maud was born, he was appointed collector of customs at the port.

Along with his duties at the port, Norris founded a business of stevedore workers that employed hundreds of employees that grew into 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 household infused with music and literature where Maud came of age. Inevitably, after completing high school in Galveston, she was accepted as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her piano teacher was Edwin Klahre and she studied theory under Martin Roeder. Her tutorial in literature was at Harvard’s Lowell Institute.

Maud and another mixed-race student, Florida Des Verney soon encountered the complaints of other students when their ancestry was revealed. A protest was mounted to have them excluded from the dormitory. Maud and her father defied the administration, which was under pressure from its white southern financial donors. W.E.B Du Bois was among the students and community members who challenged the conservatory and its attempt to exclude Maud and Florida. While Florida capitulated and moved on, Maud stood her ground, explaining that “I refused to leave the dormitory, and because of this, was subjected to many petty indignities. I insisted upon proper treatment.”  

Almost expectantly, Maud became a member of the highly vocal and politically conscious neighborhood where she lived in Boston. Her friendship with Du Bois that began with his support for her defiance at the Conservatory grew deeper and soon she was immersed in the activities that occurred at Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin’s home. In fact, for a short period of time she was engaged to Du Bois who described her as “a tall, imperious brunette, with gold-bronze skin, brilliant eyes and coils of black hair.”

Maud returned to Texas after graduation from the Conservatory and began private lessons with pianist Emil Ludwig. A portion of her time and working hours was given to the students at the Texas Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth in the 1890s. There were also her performances at the Austin Opera House where she once more asserted her social and political activism against the segregated seating that relegated African Americans to the balconies. On one occasion when her demand was refused, she and Ludwig, cancelled a concert date and performed at the Texas Institute for Colored Youths where there was no segregation.

She also taught at the Settlement House program of the Institutional Church in Chicago and in Prairie View, Texas in 1903 and 1904. Among the singers she collaborated with was the Canadian baritone William Howard Richardson in 1913. They would tour together for 20 years, including being the first musicians of color to perform at Boston Public Library’s concert-lecture series. Meanwhile, Maud launched her Allied Artists Center that encompassed a full retinue of artistic endeavors. Though essentially a center for African American aspirants in the arts, it was open to all.

When she was not administering 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 incidental music by Montague Ring. As a musicologist, her interests were wide, touching on the music and folklore traditions of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. From her travels she collected a vast 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 were published in the Christian Science Monitor, the Musical Quarterly and other journals. Perhaps her best-known work was “Negro Musicians and Their Music” in 1936 where she compiled a veritable compendium of African American musical history. However, because of her dislike for ragtime and jazz she failed to include the music of significant jazz notables such as Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Even so, noted pianist and arts leader Josephine Harreld Love praised it for its meticulous scholarship and deemed it a “priceless legacy of accomplished documentation.” Unfortunately, she never saw the completed and edited version since she was crippled by cancer and died before it was published. She was first married to J. Frank McKinney, a doctor of mixed raced but they divorced in 1902 and she was disappointed in a custody battle for their daughter, Vera. Eight years later she would gain 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 affixing Hare to her last name. The house they settled in on Sheridan Street is marked by 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 first women in the organization. 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.