Artists and Scholars in Conversation

Andre Headshot

Thomas Brothers, Anthony Kelley


Type: Lab

The Black Music Lab invited practicing artists and scholars for a series of open discussions led by composer Anthony M. Kelley (Professor of the Practice of Music, Department of Music).

Naomi André in Conversation

March 2, 2022

On Black Music and the Operatic Tradition: Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Reconsidered

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Considered one of the most significant American operatic works, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess has been a staple of programming for opera companies since its creation in 1935. But this opera, while praised for its contagious melodic content and requirements of Black casting, has also encountered sharp criticism for its handling of matters involving racial stereotypes, dialect, and cultural appropriation.

What issues persist around the programming of one of Gershwin’s best known works, and are there best practices and circumstances that might allow for appropriate framing of the work in the 21st century and beyond? Join an expert on the topic, musicologist Naomi André (author, Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement) in conversation with Duke faculty member, Anthony Kelley (co-convener of Duke University’s Black Music and the Soul of America humanities lab) as they reconsider Gershwin’s opera and other related topics on Black Music and the operatic tradition.

Naomi André is a professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Women’s Studies, and the Residential College at the University of Michigan. She received her B.A. from Barnard College and M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her research focuses on opera and issues surrounding gender, voice, and race in the US, Europe, and South Africa. Her publications include topics on Italian opera, Schoenberg, women composers, and teaching opera in prisons. Her book, Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (University of Illinois Press, 2018) won the Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music. Her earlier books include Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (2006) and Blackness in Opera (2012, co-edited collection). She has edited and contributed to clusters of articles in African Studies and the Journal of the Society for American Music. Currently she is a co-editor for the essay collection African Performance Arts and Political Acts (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming in 2021). She is the inaugural Scholar in Residence at the Seattle Opera.

Michael Ables in Conversation

January 26, 2023
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The Black Music Lab hosted Award-winning composer Michael Abels for a conversation over Zoom. Ables is known for his scores for the Oscar-winning film GET OUT and Jordan Peels's US. As a concert composer, he has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and Sphinx Organization. His works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and more.

Co-moderated by Anthony Kelley and Cole Swanson, the topics explored the field of media composition in the 21st century, with a focus on matters of representation of African-American musical culture in the field.


Rhiannon Giddens in Conversation

February 20, 2023
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A MacArthur "Genius Grant" recipient, Rhiannon Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. She most recently won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for They're Calling Me Home, which she made with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Giddens is now a two-time winner and eight-time Grammy nominee for her work as a soloist and collaborator.

Giddens' lifelong mission is to lift up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been erased, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country's musical origins. Pitchfork has said of her work, "few artists are so fearless and so ravenous in their exploration," and Smithsonian Magazine calls her "an electrifying artist who brings alive the memories of forgotten predecessors, white and black."

Giddens has performed for the Obamas at the White House and received an inaugural Legacy of Americana Award from Nashville's National Museum of African American History in partnership with the Americana Music Association. Her critical acclaim includes in-depth profiles by CBS Sunday Morning, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR's Fresh Air, among many others. She was featured in Ken Burns's Country Music series, which aired on PBS, where she spoke about the African American origins of country music. She is also a member of the band Our Native Daughters with three other black female banjo players, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah, and co-produced their debut album Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019), which tells stories of historic black womanhood and survival.

"Lucy Negro Redux," the ballet Giddens wrote the music for, had its premiere at the Nashville Ballet (premiered in 2019 and toured in 2022), and the libretto and music for Giddens' original opera, "Omar," based on the autobiography of the enslaved man Omar Ibn Said, premiered at the Spoleto USA Festival in May. Giddens is also curating a four-concert Perspectives series as part of Carnegie Hall's 2022-2023 season. Named Artistic Director of Silkroad Ensemble in 2020, she is developing a number of new programs for that ensemble.