Kay Kaufman Shelemay

Kay Kaufman Shelemay

Fellow: Awarded 2007
Field of Study: Music Research

Competition: US & Canada

Harvard University

Kay Kaufman Shelemay is the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Ms. Shelemay, a former Chair of the Department of Music, is an ethnomusicologist who has carried out fieldwork in Africa (Ethiopia and Ghana), the Middle East (Israel), and the United States. She received her Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Michigan.

The author of numerous articles and reviews, Ms. Shelemay’s book Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986), won both the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1987 and the Prize of the International Musicological Society in 1988. Other major books and editions include A Song of Longing. An Ethiopian Journey (1991; 2008, Japanese translation); Ethiopian Christian Chant. An Anthology (3 vols. with CD, 1993-97), co-authored with Peter Jeffery; and Let Jasmine Rain Down. Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews (1998, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award). She edited the seven-volume Garland Library of Readings in Ethnomusicology (1990) and Studies in Jewish Musical Traditions ( 2001). Her textbook, Soundscapes. Exploring Music in a Changing World, was first published by W.W. Norton in 2001 and appeared in a revised second edition in 2006 as well as in a Chinese edition. She co-edited Pain and its Transformations: The Interface of Biology and Culture (with Sarah Coakley), published by Harvard University Press in 2007. She is currently writing a book on Ethiopian music and musicians in the United States.

In addition to her John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship during 2007-2008, Ms. Shelemay was named a Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1970) and has been awarded a number of major postdoctoral fellowships, including individual and collaborative grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Republic New York Corporation. She has held residential fellowships in Italy at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center, at the Liguria Center for the Arts and Humanities, and at the Civitella Ranieri Center. During the summers of 2007 and 2008, she held the Chair for Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress.

Past-President of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Kay Kaufman Shelemay is a Congressional appointee to and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000 and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Jewish Research in 2004.

Before joining the Harvard faculty in 1992, Ms. Shelemay taught at Columbia University, where she received an award for distinguished teaching (1982), at New York University, and at Wesleyan University. In 2006, she received both the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize at Harvard University. Ms. Shelemay has been named a Phi Beta Kappa National Visiting Lecturer for 2010-2011.


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