The grave of Occramer and Limas Marycoo’s daughter Silva, who died in 1784. Occramer Marycoo, who also used the name Newport Gardner, was perhaps the first Black African to have music published in America. Photo: Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries.

In last Monday’s (6/19) Early Music America, Sophie Genevieve Lowe writes about “Occramer Marycoo, perhaps the first Black African to have music published in America and the first Black musician to be recognized by the white American community as a professional musician. Occramer Marycoo’s story commences and concludes in Africa. Yet the bulk of his life was spent across the Atlantic. Young Marycoo shared his horrific ordeal with the 10.7 million people who suffered in the transatlantic slave trade to America. Based on the spelling of his name, it is likely that Marycoo was from an Akan language people group from the Gold Coast of Africa, specifically Ghana. Marycoo was forcibly transported to the American colonies, possibly on the 1764 voyage of the ship “The Elizabeth,” owned by sea captain Caleb Gardner…. Although the majority of enslaved people who were brought to Newport, Rhode Island were eventually shipped to the Caribbean, Gardner kept Marycoo as his own property, renaming him Newport Gardner. He is thought to have been around 14 years old when brought to America and, throughout his life, he would go by both names…. It was not long after arriving in Newport that Marycoo … became fluent in English and French and learned the fundamentals of music. He was said to be composing within four years of his arrival in America…. Scholarship into Marycoo is a relatively new field considering his importance in history…. Time and systemic racism have swept his music and story away. Yet his life is essential to understanding early music in America and it’s one that desperately needs more research to find and publish his music.”