Music Lecture: Mark Burford (Reed College): "Mahalia Jackson, Bessie Smith, Marian Anderson, and the Legibility of Black Women's Voices"
Friday, October 18, 2019 - 4:00pm
This talk focuses on gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's positioning in relation to two African American vocalists that she cited as influences but who are not often thought of in conjunction with each other: blues singer Bessie Smith and contralto Marian Anderson. Listeners were fond of noting similarities that they heard between the voices of Smith and Jackson, but for many, including, Jackson, Anderson remained a benchmark as well, if in more complicated ways. The triangulation of discourse on the voices of these three women, and in particular the representation of their voices through the reception of Mahalia Jackson, invites to consider how we imagine and racialize "encultured" and "natural" voices, while raising questions about ways black women's voices are heard, understood, and generate meaning. If, as Nina Eidsheim, argues, "voice" is best understood as an active verb, not a noun, and bodies that are considered different are habitually heard as different, how do we hear and make sense of black women's bodies who "voice" differently? Mark Burford is Associate Professor of Music at Reed College, where he is also chair of the American Studies program. His research and teaching focuses on late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Austro-German concert music and twentieth-century popular music in the United States, with particular focus on African American music after World War II. He is the author of "Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field" (2019, OUP).