A Trumpet Player and a Pulitzer Nod

Monday, July 27, 2015
Interviewed by April Dudash

Thomas Brothers, in the orange shirt, and students in his Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) class took a week-long trip to New Orleans to conduct research. Photo courtesy of Thomas Brothers

Name: Thomas Brothers
Position: Professor and director of Graduate Studies, Department of Music   
Years at Duke: 24

What I do at Duke: I’m a historian of music; musicologist is the fancy title. I research music history in several areas, I write articles and books, and teach classes in music. (He taught “Meet The Beatles and the 1960s” this past spring.) I’ve written three books on Louis Armstrong. I did some research on him in graduate school, actually, and wrote an article about the way he constructed his solos. The day they announced I was a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist, my publisher sent me an email. It’s nice to get some recognition.

If I had $5 million, I would: Buy a new building for the Durham Shambhala Center, which is a Buddhist meditation group in Durham. We’re raising money for one now.

My first ever job: Swooshing a 15-foot bamboo pole over grass on a golf green, to knock the dew off so it didn’t form fungus. I was maybe 12.

My dream job: This is it. I get a chance to work with all kinds of students, from first-year students to students who are pre-professional in musicology. I teach a lot in the MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program, so I work a lot with working adults.

A movie I like: Italian movies. We watched a De Sica movie the other day, “The Children Are Watching Us.” We lived in Italy for a year, my family and I, in Florence. I was doing research in early music.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Italy. My children went to public schools in Italy, at ages 11 and 13, so that was pretty intense. They really did well.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Spend a lot of time with family and friends, and play a lot of tennis at the Duke Faculty Club. I’ve been playing for maybe 20 years.

Something most people don’t know about me: My mother makes two dozen sticky rolls for me every two weeks, and I eat two of them every day. It became a tradition when she moved down here three years ago, and I’ve been gaining weight steadily ever since. 

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: It was movie day in the Beatles class. On movie day, we stage a mock debate, and all the students have to defend their assigned Beatles movie as the best Beatles movie. There are five Beatles movies: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!,” “Let it Be,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”

Something unique in my office: Photographs from a class trip I took to New Orleans. This was for a MALS class of working adults. We went down for a week and did research. We stayed in the French Quarter and we went uptown to Tulane University to the archives.