Birmingham and the Voice of Al Hibbler

Colloquium Lecture by Brian Kane
Oct 24, 2023 at - | Penn Music Building - Lerner 102, 201 S. 34th Street Philadelphia, PA 19104

Birmingham and the Voice of Al Hibbler

Brian Kane

October 24, 2023 (Tuesday) — 5:15 pm to 7:00 pm
Lerner Center
Penn Music Building
201 S. 34th Street, Room 102

Before the dreadful church bombing that killed four young girls and brought national attention to civil rights actions in Birmingham, a campaign for employment and desegregation had been underway. The blind vocalist, Al Hibbler, was the first celebrity to join in the protests, using his celebrity to draw attention to the struggle in Birmingham and to raise money for the protesters. In this paper I will consider a single artifact from that campaign, a tape recording of a “mass meeting” where Hibbler speaks and sings for the protesters. I argue that Hibbler’s idiosyncratic use of the voice presents a challenge to the orthodoxies of “voice studies.” Where voice studies has tended to emphasize the sound of the voice and the site of vocal enunciation over the linguistic meaning of vocal utterances—encouraging attention to the saying over the said or the uniqueness of vocal emission—Hibbler’s voice, and the complex ways that he employs it, functions like a litmus test by which the robustness or shortcomings of any theory of the voice can be measured.  


Brian Kane is Associate Professor of Music and Film and Media Studies at Yale University. A scholar of popular music, philosophy of music, and sound studies, Kane is the author of Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Theory in Theory and Practice (Oxford UP, 2014) and Hearing Double: Jazz, Ontology, Auditory Culture due out early next year on Oxford University Press. He heads the Yale’s Sound Studies Working Group and co-directs (with Prof. Daphne Brooks) the Black Sound and the Archive Working Group.   

Attendance and Registration

This event is free and open to the public. For those who would like to attend via zoom, please use link provided to register. 


About the Colloquium Lecture Series

This lecture is part of the 2023-24 Penn Music Colloquium Series. The Department of Music's main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars in music and sound studies and composers both in the United States and internationally.  All Music Colloquia will take place in Room 101 of the Lerner Center on Tuesdays at 5:15 PM.