Pathbreaking books about Black music win major honors for Brooks, Shelley
Yale faculty members Daphne Brooks and Braxton Shelley recently won top prizes from professional musical societies for their groundbreaking music scholarship.
Brooks was awarded the Music in American Culture Award from the American Musicological Society in recognition of her 2021 book “Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound” (Harvard University Press). The annual award honors a book of exceptional merit that illuminates some important aspect of American music and “places it in a rich cultural context.”
Shelley was honored with four awards for his 2021 book “Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination.” They are the Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society (AMS), given for a book of exceptional merit by a scholar in the early stages of their career; the Emerging Scholar Award-Book from the Society for Music Theory (SMT), for a book published no more than seven years after the author’s receipt of a Ph.D.; and both the Ruth Stone Prize and the inaugural Portia Maultsby Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM). The Ruth Stone Prize honors the most distinguished English language monograph in the field of ethnomusicology by a new author, and the Portia Maultsby Prize recognizes a distinguished English-language monograph in the field of ethnomusicology that focuses on African American music and/or Black music of the diaspora.
The awards for both scholars were presented at the joint annual meeting of the AMS, SMT, and SEM, held Nov. 12–13 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“Anybody who opens ‘Healing for the Soul’ or ‘Liner Notes for the Revolution’ and begins to read recognizes instantly that they are in the presence of genius,” Katie Lofton, dean of the humanities for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), said of the prizewinners. “Students and scholars of music, history, and Black performance will, for generations, be citing Daphne Brooks and Braxton Shelley. Their work changes how we hear American music.”
Brooks is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of African American Studies, American Studies, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Music in the FAS. She has written numerous articles on race, gender, performance, and popular music culture, and is the author of an earlier book, “Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910” (Duke University Press, 2006).
Shelley, who joined the Yale faculty last year, is a tenured associate professor of sacred music, of divinity, and of music, with affiliations in the Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), Divinity, and the FAS Department of Music. A theorist of African American sacred music, he is the faculty director of Yale’s new interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church at ISM. He is also a minister.
Brooks and Shelley were joined by four alumni of the Yale Department of Music’s doctoral program in music in winning 5 of the 14 prizes that were given last weekend by the SMT. The alumni winners are Matt BaileyShea ’03 Ph.D., Kara Yoo Leaman ’16 Ph.D., Liam Hynes-Tawa ’20 Ph.D., and Andrew Chung ’19 Ph.D.
“We are enormously proud of the nine awards won this weekend by faculty and alumni of our doctoral program in music,” said Ian Quinn, chair of the music department. “A generation of Yale music scholars including Daphne Brooks and Shelley Braxton continues a long tradition of setting the agenda in our subfields, leading us into parts of the musical world once ignored by the disciplinary centers. With his groundbreaking study of the power of the Black gospel vamp, Braxton Shelley has earned the musicological equivalent of an EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony] in a single stroke, receiving top book prizes from all three societies in a coup that hasn’t happened since 2004.”
“Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination” uses the work of renowned gospel musician Richard Smallwood to explore the significance of vamp (a recurring musical phrase or chord progression) in Black gospel tradition and its potent and transformative spiritual power.
In “Liner Notes for the Revolution,” Brooks offers a new perspective on the story of Black women in popular music, both the acclaimed and the overlooked. The book has won nearly a dozen prestigious awards, among them the Prose Award in Music & Performing Arts, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, and the Museum of African American History Stone Book Award.
“In this lushly written, expansive tome, the author centers the lives and art of Black women musicians and critics, the ‘remarkable sisters’ of modern popular music culture, which Brooks argues would simply ‘cease to exist’ without them,” the AMS said of the book.
“Daphne is a superlative intellectual whose genius gives us words for how we feel about what we hear,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, the chair and Carl L. Hovland Professor of African American Studies and professor of psychology. “This award (piled on top of many others for ‘Liner Notes’) is richly deserved and a testament to the towering achievements of the book!”
Prizes won by Department of Music alumni are: the SMT's Wallace Berry Award for a distinguished book by an author of any age or career stage to Matt BaileyShea for “Lines and Lyrics: An Introduction to Poetry and Song” (Yale University Press); the SMT’s Outstanding Publication Award to Kara Yoo Leaman and Liam Hynes-Tawa for a distinguished article by an author of any age or career stage; and the SMT’s Emerging Scholar Award for an article published no more than seven years after earning a Ph.D. to Andrew Chung.
Amanda Patrick contributed to this story.