TIE Podcast Spring Semester Preview: Dr. Fredara Hadley on Ethnomusicology, the Musical Legacies of HBCUs, and Shirley Graham Du Bois

Fredara Hadley headshot

In this spring semester episode, Dr. Fredara Hadley, Ethnomusicology Professor in Department of Music History at The Juilliard School, discusses her work as an ethnomusicologist with Toward Inclusive Excellence editor-in-chief Alexia Hudson-Ward. Fredara’s research considers how people of African descent use music genres to construct and maintain community. A native of West Palm Beach, Florida, she teaches courses on ethnomusicology and African American music. Fredara has been published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, ICTM YearbookBillboard Magazine, and more, and has presented at meetings for the Society for Ethnomusicology, Society for American Music, International Council for Traditional Music – Study Groups on African Music, and the Association for the Study of African American life and History.

In this conversation, Fredara outlines her educational path to ethnomusicology and defines the discipline as the study of music as culture. As part of her research, she digs into the musical legacies and impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities by tracing her family’s history with HBCUs and how these institutions act as “important islands of refuge for young Black people.” Fredara explains how the majority of HBCUs emerged during the Reconstruction era in order to segregate university education; however, they have evolved into critical spaces to nurture and support young Black scholars despite threats of closure and continuous underfunding.

Fredara also chats about Shirley Graham Du Bois, an important musical figure, political force, and world traveler. Married to sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, she was a key playwright and composer and expanded scholarship around African diaspora studies. Highlighting her work in Ghana as a diplomat and director of Ghana’s first television network, Alexia and Fredara spotlight her fascinating life and theorize why she remains a hidden figure.

This is an informative conversation in the midst of Black Music Month. We hope you enjoy this engaging discussion.

Listen to the full episode below:

TIE Podcast · Dr. Fredara Hadley on Ethnomusicology, the Musical Legacies of HBCUs, and Shirley Graham Du Bois

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On Fredara’s path to becoming an ethnomusicologist:

“My mom took me to a book sale, a used book sale, and I found a copy of a book called Blues People by LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka, and I read it ravenously, and that was a turning point for me because I didn’t know that people wrote about Black music, this world that I lived in in church with my friends and all of this. I didn’t know that people were thinking about it and theorizing about it in that way. And so that stuck with me. I didn’t know the word ‘ethnomusicology’ yet, but that planted a seed in my mind.”

On the musical impact of HBCUs:

“But I just want to orient us towards the fact that when we see that a composer taught at a HBCU or graduated from a HBCU—the great Leontyne Price is a HBCU grad—that isn’t a footnote. That is a pivotal juncture where usually foundational musical training, exposure, community bonding happens and those rituals, those musics, filter out into the broader Black community and into American music.”

On Shirley Graham Du Bois’s life:

“When we think about the early 20th-century, we think about, understandably, the limitations of Black life, the limitations of segregation, the opportunities that weren’t available. And hers is certainly an exceptional life, it’s not the life of most people at that time, Black or white, but…there’s something really remarkable to me to see such a sprawling, big life of a Black woman born in late 19th centuryand she died in the 1970swho had a life that, you know, traversed continents and had all of this intrigue and all of these chapters and all of these phases.”

Watch the full video interview here:

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.