Kay K. Shelemay

Kay K. Shelemay

G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies, Department of Music
Kay K.  Shelemay

On leave fall 2019-spring 2020

Dr. Kay K. Shelemay received her B.M. (1970), M.A. (1972), and Ph.D. (1977) from the University of Michigan. Shelemay taught at Columbia University (1977-1982), New York University (1982-1990), and Wesleyan University (1990-1992), before joining the Harvard faculty in 1992. At Harvard, Shelemay has served as Chair of the Department of Music and is active in interdisciplinary studies across several domains. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy for Jewish Research, the American Philosophical Society, and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, she is a Past President of the Society for Ethnomusicology. A Congressional appointee to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress from 1999-2012, Shelemay was Chair of that Board from 2002-2004. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Radcliffe Institute. Shelemay held the Chair in Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress during August and September 2007 and June 2008. During 2015-2016 Shelemay was the Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow of the Stanford Humanities Center and in May, 2015 a Fulbright Specialist at the Charles University in Prague.

Shelemay received an Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Columbia University School of General Studies in 1982; at Harvard, she has received the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize, both in 2006, and the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award in 2014

In addition to longtime interests in musical ethnography and music and memory, Shelemay's current research is on Ethiopian music and musicians in their North American diaspora. Her monograph Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986, 1989) won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award and the Prize of the International Musicological Society. In addition to the seven-volume collection Garland Readings in Ethnomusicology (1990) and A Song of Longing. An Ethiopian Journey (1991), Shelemay co-edited with Peter Jeffery the three-volume Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant. An Anthology (1994, 1995, 1997). Other publications include Let Jasmine Rain Down. Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews (1998, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award) and Soundscapes and Exploring Music in a Changing World (2001, second edition 2006, third edition 2015; fourth edition in preparation). She has co-edited Pain and Its Transformations. The Interface of Biology and Culture (with Sarah Coakley), published by Harvard University Press in 2007, and received the Society for Ethnomusicology Jaap Kunst Prize in 2010 for her article, “The Power of Silent Voices: Women in the Syrian Jewish Musical Tradition.” In 2011, she co-edited with Steven Kaplan a special, double-volume of the journal Diaspora titled “Creating the Ethiopian Diaspora: Perspectives from Across the Disciplines;” this volume was reissued as an edited volume in 2015 by Tsehai Publishers.


Contact Information

Paine Hall, Room 7
p: 617-495-2791


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