Timeline of African American Music

About the Timeline

From the drumbeats of Mother Africa to the work songs and Spirituals created in a new land, a path can be traced to the blues, gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip-hop expressions of African Americans that are celebrated throughout the world.

The Timeline of African American Music represents decades of scholarship conducted and led by Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, a pioneer in the study of African American music, as well as the contributions of numerous scholars. From the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music, the timeline is a detailed view of the evolution of African American musical genres that span the past 400 years. This celebration of African American musical traditions reveals the unique characteristics of each genre and style, while also offering in-depth studies of pioneering musicians who created some of America’s most timeless artistic expressions.

Leontyne Price performing on the Carnegie Hall Endowment Campaign Announcement, January 10, 1995.Steve J. Sherman

In 2009, soprano Jessye Norman brought Dr. Maultsby and her work to Carnegie Hall as part of the festival HONOR! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy. As a cornerstone of the festival, Miss Norman wanted educational initiatives to expand the audience’s journey of discovery, including the first interactive version of the timeline. After the festival, the timeline became an integral part of Carnegie Hall’s online educational resources and continued to serve music lovers, educators, and students around the world for more than a decade.

Through generous support from the NEH and NEA, and in collaboration with Synoptic Office, the timeline has been reimagined and updated to serve a new generation of audiences.

Visitors to the timeline can expand their knowledge through multimedia stories, recordings of legendary musicians, and rarely seen historical images from Carnegie Hall’s Rose Archives. Closely connected to Carnegie Hall, this interactive presentation of the timeline examines seminal African American musical, cultural, and political events that have taken place at the Hall throughout the past 130 years. The timeline is a superb historical study and a celebration of living musical traditions for all to explore.

Advisory Team

Portia K. Maultsby, Ph.D. serves as the lead scholar for the project. Dr. Maultsby is the Professor Emerita of Ethnomusicology in the Dept. of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. She has made significant contributions to the field in the areas of African American religious and popular musics, the music industry, and public ethnomusicology. She is co-editor of African American Music: An Introduction. 2nd Ed. (Routledge Press, 2015) and Issues in African American Music (Routledge Press, 2017). Other publications have appeared in numerous American and European journals, edited volumes, and as essays in music trade publications including Billboard and Rolling Stone.

Dr. Maultsby has served as a researcher, curator, music supervisor and consulting scholar for numerous museum exhibitions, documentary films, and radio productions. She was Senior Scholar for the inaugural exhibition for the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, TN.

Paul Austerlitz, Ph.D. is Professor in the Sunderman Conservatory of Music and the Africana Studies Program at Gettysburg College. Professor Austerlitz, an ethnomusicologist, composer, and musician, combines his background as a scholar specializing in Afro-Caribbean music with his creative work as a jazz musician. Austerlitz is the author of two books: Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity (2005, Wesleyan University Press), which focuses on issues of race, nation, and transnationalism, looking at jazz in relation to national identity in the U.S., pan-Africanism, and global currents; and Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity (1997, Temple University Press), which considers Dominican music in relation to racial and national identity. Austerlitz has conducted field research on traditional music in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Ghana, the Republic of Benin, Nigeria, and Finland.

Dina M. Bennett, Ph.D. is the Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to this role, Bennett spent three years as the Curatorial Director for the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee, the first national institution dedicated to educating, preserving, and celebrating more than fifty music genres and sub-genres that were created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans. She has previously held positions at the Mulvane Art Museum and the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Bennett received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies; a master’s degree in College Student Personnel; and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology with a minor in African American & African Diaspora Studies from Indiana University. She is a Board member of the Association of African American Museums and The Blues Foundation.

Tony Bolden, Ph.D. is a Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. His teaching and research interests include a broad spectrum of topics related to artistic expression in the African Diaspora, especially Black music and literature. His books include, Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture and Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk. Bolden continues to publish articles on Black writing and politics. He is also Editor of The Langston Hughes Review, and his current projects include a monograph on Black writing as well as a collection of autobiographical essays.

Scot Brown, Ph.D. is an associate professor of African American Studies and History at UCLA. He is the author of Fighting for Us as well as numerous articles on activism, music and popular culture. Dr. Brown is editor of Discourse on Africana Studies and currently completing a book on 1970s bands from funk music hotbed, Dayton, Ohio. Brown has also served as commentator on many televised music documentaries on BET/Centric, TV One, and VH1. Additionally, he has appeared in documentaries on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements -- most recently, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

Tyron Cooper, Ph.D. is a four-time Emmy award winner and Director of Indiana University’s (IU) Archives of African American Music and Culture. An associate professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and adjunct faculty in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at IU, he specializes in Black popular and religious music production and commodification. Along with his teaching and research in African American music, Cooper is recognized for his extensive studio recording and live performance experience as music director, guitarist, vocalist, composer and arranger for national artists such as A Taste of Honey, Max Roach, Bo Diddley, Dionne Warwick, Felton Pilate, Marietta Simpson, Angela Brown, The Soulful Symphony, Donnie McClurkin, Jason Nelson, Lamar Campbell, Bishop Leonard Scott, Kathy Taylor, and Walt Whitman and The Soul Children to name a few.

Denise Dalphond, Ph.D.  is an independent ethnomusicologist specializing in Black electronic music, and Detroit house and techno. Her ethnographic research centers on the legacy of electronic music in African American culture and its important place in Detroit’s musical history. Her writing on Detroit techno has appeared in African American Music: An Introduction (Routledge 2015) edited by Mellonee Burnim and Portia Maultsby, and Black Lives Matter and Music (Indiana University Press 2018) edited by Stephanie Shonekan and Fernando Orejuela. Dalphond co-founded the Detroit Sound Conservancy in 2011 to help archive and educate about Detroit’s musical heritage of all genres and historical periods. Her work has also been featured on Afropop Worldwide, Swedish Television, and online music publications, Little White Earbuds and Create Digital Music.

Douglas Henry Daniels, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Black Studies and History, and former Chair of Black Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his BA in Political Science from the University of Chicago and an M.A. and Ph. D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Daniels’ book publications include Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester Pres Young (Beacon, 2002); Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco; and One Oclock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils (Beacon Press, 2006). He was the recipient of a Fulbright Lecturing/Research Fellowship in Japan, where he taught courses in African American History and researched the history of jazz in Japan. Other research interests include African popular music and the use of oral history and photography in the study of culture.

Reebee Garofalo, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at UMass Boston, where he taught for 33 years, and an internationally known scholar of popular music studies who has written or edited five books and numerous articles on the subject. He is a past President and an honorary member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US. His most recent books are Rockin Out: Popular Music in the USA and HONK! A Street Band Renaissance of Music and Activism. Garofalo has also spent years organizing and performing in progressive cultural events. He serves on the Organizing Committee for the annual HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville, MA, and enjoys drumming with the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, an activist New Orleans-style Street band, and with the Blue Suede Boppers, a fifties rock ‘n’ roll band.

Joyce Marie Jackson, Ph. D. is Professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University. An ethnomusicologist and public folklorist, Dr. Jackson is a specialist in African American vernacular music traditions (specializing in jubilee/gospel quartets) and music of the African Diaspora. She has contributed to the research, festival, and exhibition projects at Smithsonian Folk Life Center and the broader Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Jackson’s long-term research on quartets grounds quartet singing in both the barbershop and arranged spiritual traditions, the latter pioneered by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Building on these early vernacular and concert traditions, she explores the evolution of community-based quartets and the rise of professional jubilee quartets and gospel quartets. Her studies of these traditions examine the social role of quartets in Black community life.

Tammy Kernodle, Ph.D. is University Distinguished Professor of Music at Miami University in Ohio, where her scholarship and teaching are primarily in the areas of African American music (Classical and Popular), American music and gender studies. Dr. Kernodle’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies and peer-reviewed journals. She is the author of the biography Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams (2nd ed, 2020 University of Illinois Press) and served as Associate Editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of African American Music. She is currently the Immediate Past-President of the Society for American Music.

Steven Lewis, Ph.D. is the Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He holds a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Critical and Comparative Studies in Music from the University of Virginia. Lewis’s research interests include late 20th-century jazz history, 19th-century African American music, and African American intellectual history. He has presented lectures on these topics in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and his work as a scholar and curator has been featured on television and in major publications including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Lewis has also served as Historian and Curator for the Ed Johnson Memorial Project and as founding Curator of the National Museum of African American Music.

Maureen Mahon, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Music at New York University. She is the author of Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (Duke University Press, 2020) and Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race (Duke University Press, 2004). Mahon’s articles on gender, race, genre, and popular music have appeared in academic venues and on the websites of National Public Radio and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. She has held fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation. She was the Chief Academic Advisor for “Soundtrack of America,” the five-night concert series commission by filmmaker Steve McQueen that opened inaugural season of The Shed in Manhattan in 2019.

Alison Martin, Ph.D. is a Mellon Faculty Fellow at Dartmouth College in the Music Department and the Cluster for Digital Humanities and Social Engagement. Her work explores the relationships between race, sound, and gentrification in Washington, DC. Utilizing a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and digital humanities methodologies, Allie considers how African American people in the city experience gentrification as a sonic, racialized process. Her work has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Society for American Music, and the American Musicological Society. She is currently working on her first book, tentatively entitled Sonic Intersections: Listening to Gentrification in Washington, DC.

Gayle Murchison, Ph.D. a musicologist, is Associate Professor of Music History and Africana Studies, specializing in Twentieth-century American and African American music at the College of William and Mary. She has taught a range of courses in African American music, including Music of the Harlem Renaissance; William Grant Still and Duke Ellington; and Playing Against Racism: the Black Singer Songwriter and Social Consciousness; and History of the Blues. As a researcher, she has published on blues and jazz, and the African American classical composer William Grant Still in journals and edited volumes. Dr. Murchison, a classically trained pianist, was active for several years as a keyboardist in soul/R&B/blues bands in New Orleans. She will contribute to a more comprehensive interpretation of the blues and jazz as well as provide guidance for the inclusion of Black composers utilizing European models in the timeline.

Fernando Orejuela, Ph.D.  is Senior Lecturer, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Affiliated Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. His research focuses on the history of hip hop, social justice, and cultural traditions with special attention to musical cultural expressions (b-beat, electro-funk, gangsta rap, conscious rap), folk art and material culture (graffiti, scraper bikes, low-riders), and dance (top rocking, breaking, poppin’ and lockin’, krumping)—the topic of his book, Rap and Hip Hop Culture (2021). He is also the co-editor with Stephanie Shonekan of Black Lives Matter Movement and Music (2018), which balances critical race theory with Black music and social movements.

Dr. Orejuela offers a broad perspective on the history and development of rap and hip hop culture, nationally and globally, as well as the use of technology in the humanities. He teaches classes on hip hop culture and youth musical subcultures and social movements, as well as seminars on Latinx hip hop, popular music and place, and sports and gaming cultures.

Marisa Parham, Ph.D. serves as lead scholar for the digital humanities exploration of the project. Dr. Parham is a Professor of English at Amherst College and also directs the Five College Digital Humanities Initiative, which is a Mellon-funded grant initiative serving Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Its purpose is to help artists and scholars to integrate technology into humanities scholarship and creative work, and also to bring those disciplines to influence technological growth. She holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and is the author of Haunting and Displacement in African-American Literature and Culture, as well as The African-American Student’s Guide to College.

Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D. is Professor of English Literature and Humanities at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is the author of When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music (2008) and a range of essays, including praise and worship in the urban church and sex and sexuality in gospel lyrics. A Stellar and Emmy Award-winner, she has served as host and/or producer on Detroit TV, radio, and concert stages for decades and served as part of the Storyline Committee for the National Museum of African American Music. In 2021, she was named a Michigan Heritage Award winner in recognition of her work in gospel in academic and community environments. Her current research includes exploring the image of “father” and the presence of social commentary in gospel lyrics. She is also focused on completing a manuscript on the song “Oh Happy Day.”

Stephanie Shonekan, Ph.D. is Senior Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Science and Professor of Music at the University of Missouri. In 2003, she earned a PhD in Ethnomusicology and Folklore with a minor in African American Studies from Indiana University. She has taught at Columbia College Chicago, the University of Missouri, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She chaired the Department of Black Studies at the University of Missouri and the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her publications explore the nexus where identity, culture and music meet. Her books include The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Opera Diva (2011), Soul, Country, and the USA: Race and Identity in American Music Culture (2015), Black Lives Matter & Music (2018), and Black Resistance in the Americas (2018).

George L. Starks, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Music at Drexel University. An ethnomusicologist with a specialty in New World Musics of African origin, he holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in music from North Carolina A&T State University and the University of Illinois respectively, and the Ph.D.in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University. Dr. Starks has conducted field research in the South Carolina Sea Islands, Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Anderson County, South Carolina. He served as associate editor of the International Jazz Archives Journal, and as contributing editor to The Black Perspective in Music. A critically acclaimed saxophonist, he has performed with musicians ranging from Ghanaian master drummer Kobena Adzenyah to avant-garde trumpeter Clifford Thornton to vocalist Roy Hamilton to the Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra.

Earl Stewart, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his BS in Secondary Education from Southern University, Baton Rouge, and his MM and DMA in Composition from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Stewart is the author of African American Music: An Introduction, a musicological survey of African American music from the Civil War to the present. He has published articles on the aesthetic and theoretical significance of African American music, including “Towards an Aesthetic of Black Musical Expression,” Journal of Aesthetic Education; “Scott Joplin and the Quest for Identity,” Journal of Aesthetic Education; “Coleridge-Taylor: Concatenationism and Essentialism in an Anglo-African Composer,” American Philosophical Association Newsletter of Philosophy and the Black Experience.

Greg Tate was an American writer, musician, and producer. A long-time critic for The Village Voice, his work focused primarily on African American music and culture. He was a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition and the leader of the American improvisational band Burnt Sugar. His book, Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America (1992), collected 40 of his works for the Voice and he published a sequel, Flyboy 2 in 2016. He was a Visiting Professor in Afrofuturism and Africana Studies at Columbia, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Williams College, NYU, and San Francisco State University.

Jeff Todd Titon, Ph.D. is Professor of Music, Emeritus, at Brown University, where he directed the Ph.D. program in ethnomusicology. From 1969-71 he was the guitarist in the Lazy Bill Lucas Blues Band, including an appearance at the 1971 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. Among his nine published books is Early Downhome Blues (1977; 2nd ed.1994) which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Prize and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Editor of Ethnomusicology from 1990-95, in 2015 he was made an honorary life member of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the same year that his field recordings were chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress, which now also houses his professional papers. In 1998 he was elected a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, and in 2020 he received their Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award. His most recent book is Toward a Sound Ecology (2020). 

Michael Veal, Ph.D. is Professor of Music and African American Studies at Yale University. He received a B.M. at Berklee College of Music (Jazz Composition and Arranging), an
 M.A. at Wesleyan University (Ethnomusicology) and his Ph.D at Wesleyan University (Ethnomusicology). Trained as an ethnomusicologist, his work addresses the themes of aesthetics, technology and politics within the cultural sphere of Africa and the African diaspora. His publications include the biography Fela: The Life & Times of an African Musical Icon (Temple University Press, 2000), documentation of the “Afrobeat” genre with Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat (Duke University Press, 2013), Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), Punk Ethnography: The Sublime Frequencies Companion (co-edited with E. Tammy Kim, forthcoming) and Wait Until Tomorrow: John Coltrane and Miles Davis in the Digital Age.

Christina Zanfagna, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Ethnic Studies at Santa Clara University, is an ethnomusicologist and dancer. She received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UCLA in 2010 after earning her B.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She teaches courses on American music and race, Black Atlantic popular culture and politics, flamenco history, social theory, and ethnographic methods. She is a co-founder of SCU’s “Culture.Power.Difference” speaker series and working group. Her research focuses on music’s relationship to religion, race and geography in urban America. She specializes in Black sacred and popular music, especially gospel rap and soul music. Zanfagna has published on subjects ranging from hip hop’s religious history to digital DJing practices, gospel rap, “krump” dancing on the streets of South Los Angeles, and Harlem’s Black diasporas. She is currently finishing a book project, entitled, Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels - an ethnography of gospel rap in LA.

Carnegie Hall Logo White

The Timeline of African American Music by Portia K. Maultsby, Ph.D. presents the remarkable diversity of African American music, revealing the unique characteristics of each genre and style, from the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music.

Learn More
Jessye Norman

Carnegie Hall’s interactive Timeline of African American Music is dedicated to the loving memory of the late soprano and recitalist Jessye Norman.

© 2008 Richard Termine

Special thanks to Dr. Portia K. Maultsby and to the Advisory Scholars for their commitment and thought-provoking contributions to this resource.

Neh Logo

The Timeline of African American Music has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. The project is also supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

© 2024 Carnegie Hall