Mellonee Burnim named director of IU's Archives of African American Music and Culture

  • Feb. 6, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel has announced the appointment of Mellonee V. Burnim, a professor of folklore and ethnomusicology, as director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

Burnim's appointment follows the retirement of the institute's founding director Portia Maultsby, a collaborator and her co-editor on the seminal scholarly book, "African American Music: An Introduction," which has been used as a key text on the subject in classrooms across the nation.

As an educator and researcher with more than three decades of experience and an ethnomusicologist specializing in African American sacred music and the musics of the African diaspora, Burnim will bring a diverse background and wealth of knowledge to the institute.

"I am delighted that Professor Burnim has agreed to serve as director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture,"  IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel said. "Her long association with the archives, along with her deep expertise in gospel music, make her an ideal steward of the archives’ incredible resources. I am excited to work with her as we plan for the future of the archives.”

"The Archives of African American Music and Culture is a rich and powerful resource which links Indiana University to African American communities across the United States as well as to students and scholars around the world," Burnim added. "I welcome the opportunity to continue the important work begun by Portia Maultsby."

Established in 1991, the Archives of African American Music and Culture is a repository of materials covering a range of African American musical idioms and cultural expressions from the post-World War II era. Its collections highlight popular, religious and classical music, with genres ranging from blues and gospel to R&B and contemporary hip hop. It also houses extensive materials related to the documentation of black radio.

The institute supports the research of scholars, students and the general public worldwide by providing access to holdings that include oral histories, photographs, musical and print manuscripts, audio and video recordings, educational broadcast programs, and the personal papers of individuals and organizations concerned with black music.

Maultsby, who has been at IU Bloomington since 1971, is the Laura Boulton Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. IU President Michael A. McRobbie presented her with the President's Medal for Excellence last fall. In 2011, Maultsby was honored by National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music. She serves as an advisory board member for the Institute for Popular Music and was a researcher or advisor for various video and radio documentaries for the National Afro-American Museum, PBS, Radio Smithsonian and NPR, among others.

A native of Teague, Texas, Burnim turned her love for gospel music into a lifelong calling. She began performing at an early age and by the age of 12 served as a pianist for choirs in three local churches. She studied music at North Texas State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in music education with an emphasis on choral music.

After a few years of teaching middle school choirs, Burnim chose to further her education by pursing a master's degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1980, she earned her doctorate at IU in ethnomusicology, writing her dissertation on black gospel music as a symbol of ethnicity.

While working on her doctorate, Burnim in 1975 became the founding director of the African American Choral Ensemble, one of three performing groups in the African American Arts Institute.

As a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and an adjunct professor of African and African American Diaspora Studies, Burnim has long been a research associate of the AAAMC. Her work has been instrumental in increasing the archive’s holdings of gospel music materials.

She has been a consultant for the Smithsonian Institution American Folklife Festival. Prestigious institutions have recognized her contributions as a researcher and educator, such as Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music, where she served as the first Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethnomusicology and Ritual Studies in 2004.

Her written works have become essential reading for those studying African American music. Her numerous articles can be found in journals and reference works including Ethnomusicology, The Western Journal of Black Studies and The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. The second edition of "African American Music: An Introduction" is slated for release this year.

She also remains an active musician. She has served as the minister of music for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and Fairview United Methodist churches in Bloomington.

A celebration will take place this spring to recognize Maultsby's distinguished career and contributions.

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