Kwame Ocran


First Year Graduate Student in Music Studies: Historical Musicology

103, Music Building

Kwame K. Ocran is a lover of popular music who meditates on the history, drama, and uncanny presence of pop as a sonic zeitgeist. He chooses to revel in the genealogies of pop and its zealous effect on the ear. A pop cognoscenti, Kwame appraises musical works with an intentionality that not only respects the creative and productive forces that made pop possible, but one that also recognizes the political and performative fruits of pop’s ceaseless labor.

A Bronx native and son of naturalized American citizens from Ghana, Kwame graduated from New York’s Brooklyn Technical High School and the City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors College. At Macaulay, Kwame’s studies in political philosophy, critical race, gender, and sexuality studies at Hunter College led him to pursue his own academic projects at the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Individualized Study. His intellectual nomadism through CUNY synced with the aural nomadism that encouraged his undergraduate thesis, “Reviewing Pop with Critical Replenishment”, an exploration of Lady Gaga’s Joanne (2016) through an appreciation of the artist’s process and sources beyond snap value judgement.

Before coming to Penn, Kwame created an individualized concentration at the CUNY Graduate Center in American Culture and Performance, looking closely at Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2016), the rock-pop divide, black divas, as well as queer Harlem Renaissance performance. His master’s thesis, “Aloof: Black Divas of Refusal”, embraces the work of Lena Horne and Billie Holiday as molds of black female interiority and expression for generations of performers to follow. Through his current research into black and popular performance, Kwame explores how criticism can discover, celebrate, and venerate good music.