Mark Burford

Performing Preservation: White Women’s Voices and Old South Black Song 

April 9, 2024 (Tuesday) — 5:15 PM to 7:00 PM
Lerner Center
Penn Music Building
201 S. 34th Street, Room 101

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This talk considers inscrutable contradictions in the reception of three early twentieth-century white southern women expressly committed to preserving antebellum Black vernacular song by performing the voices of their childhood “mammies.” Even as their blackvoiced commemoration consolidated the national project of nostalgic Old South vindication, these women were also legitimized by alliances with the nascent scholarly discipline of folklore studies and, more unexpectedly, by the implicit endorsement of such African Americans as John Wesley Work, Ella Sheppard, Harry T. Burleigh, and W. E. B. Du Bois, who—perhaps strategically—championed the cultural-political significance of Black folk song.  The talk will assess the meanings emerging from this busy intersection of postbellum personal memoir, cross-racial folkloric preservation, Lost Cause propaganda, and vocal performance. 


Mark Burford is R. P. Wollenberg Professor of Music at Reed College. His published writing includes articles on Sam Cooke, Johannes Brahms, Alvin Ailey, gospel music, and opera. He is the author of Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field and editor of The Mahalia Jackson Reader, both published by Oxford University Press. In 2022, he was awarded the Dent Medal by the Royal Musical Association for outstanding contribution to the field of musicology.



This event is free and open to the public. If you attend in person, there is no need to register. We ask that you join us in person if at all possible, but for those of you who are unable to physically attend we encourage you to participate via Zoom. Please return in this fall for a registration link to attend virtually.



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.