Africana Studies Marks a Decade at Berklee

This fall, Berklee’s Africana Studies program is entering its second decade. Since the program’s founding in 2007, we have achieved a number of the things we set out to accomplish.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve developed a minor in Africana Studies, a range of classes, clinics, concerts, and film and lecture series. We’ve also sponsored black music studies professorships with Amiri Baraka, Bobby Mcferrin, and Lalah Hathaway ’90.

The program has invited more than 75 of the world’s leading artists and scholars in the field including Geri Allen, Dr. Billy Taylor, King (featuring Paris Strother ’08), founding members of the Sun Ra Arkestra, George Duke, Robin Kelley, George Clinton, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Stanley Crouch, Regina Carter, Richard Smallwood, Mint Condition, Maria Schneider, the Clark Sisters, Tye Tribbet, David Honey Boy Edwards, Lionel Loueke ’00, Esperanza Spalding ’05, and many more.

This past April, we celebrated the decade with a concert titled Black Music Matters 2007–2017: Defining Our Traditions, which featured Stokley Williams (MintCondition), Morris Hayes (the music director for Prince), and Dr. Patrice Rushen. We opened up the concert with a video of the inaugural concert 10 years prior, during which Dr. Cornel West said, “The music allowed us to be bigger, to be true to the music, connecting . . . being compassionate, justice- seeking, freedom-finding, willing to sacrifice for young people who are 100 percent our future. That’s why black music matters.”

In our classes today, we are talking about “music educating” as contemporary ethnomusicology.  We focus on thinking through carefully and deeply the meaning, purpose, reasons for, and impact of music through the music itself: the lyrics and images and what they represent in these times. For us, it is about cultivating and sharpening creative minds and upholding great musical traditions in the neighborhoods, cities, nation, and world. That’s artistic citizenry.