Letter from Professor William Banfield

It is becoming increasingly important that students not only know what they are doing, but also why they are doing it. Next to the making of music itself, the most important thing we can do is to understand the conditions, culture, and contexts through which artistry, artists, and society function.

The black cultural narrative in music exemplifies an impressive depth of artistic integrity, from the global vision of black artistry as far back as the 1790s, with its embrace of ingenuity, innovation, and artistic impact, to the genius of such musicians as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Paul Robeson, and Bessie Smith.

Contemporary approaches to music are built on the foundation of these narratives and visions. From traditional West African music to modern urban sounds, black music (and traditions, culture, and history) have globally defined and shaped our music culture. From slavery's spirituals to Son House's blues-influenced sermons; Billie Holiday's offerings to William Grant Still's multilayered Afro-American Symphony and Duke Ellington's lyrical elegance; Ornette Coleman’s free jazz to John Coltrane's supreme mastery; Sam Cooke’s to Aretha Franklin's soul; Bob Marley's global peace offering to James Brown's manifesto for funk; and from Tupac’s "Keep Ya Head Up" to India Arie’s "Brown Skin," this artistry is the invisible thread within modern music and modern culture.

Berklee's Africana Studies program is unique in its examination of issues of power, identity, race, history, and social interactions. We recognize the central role that music has and continues to play in the formation and analysis of these questions. We provide an innovative lens through which to examine music and, in turn, we use music history, ethnomusicology, and the intersection of music and society to frame our participation in the public discourse.

William Banfield, D.M.A.
Professor of Africana Studies/Music and Society
Liberal Arts