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Columbia College Chicago
Black Vocality Symposium
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Black Vocality Symposium

Cultural Memory, Identities, & Practices of African-American Singing Styles
Columbia College Chicago
Concert Hall, 1014 South Michigan Avenue

September 24–25, 2013

A symposium to explore how the singing voice—a means of individual expression and a vehicle for social and political action—has been used and perceived within African-American cultures.

Presented by:

  • Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago
  • Columbia College Department of Music
  • University of Salento, Lecce, Italy


  • the vocality of gospel and popular music
  • improvisation and cultural memory
  • sound poetry and storytelling
  • black music and extended vocal techniques


  • Gianpaolo Chiriacò Gianpaolo Chiriacò (project designer, CBMR resident fellow, University of Salento, Italy)
  • Monica Hairston O'Connell Monica Hairston O’Connell (Executive Director, Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago)
  • Fabrizia Barresi Fabrizia Barresi (vocal performer/teacher, Paris)
  • Mankwe Ndosi Mankwe Ndosi (vocal performer and activist, Minneapolis)
  • Pamela Z Pamela Z (performer and composer, San Francisco)
  • Katherine MeizelKatherine Meizel (Bowling Green State University)
  • Bobbi Wilsyn Bobbi Wilsyn (Columbia College Music)
  • Maggie Brown Maggie Brown (vocal performer, Chicago)
  • Patrick Dailey Patrick Dailey (Boston University)
  • Sage Morgan-Hubbard Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Columbia College Dance)
  • Stacy Rene Erenberg Stacy Rene Erenberg (Chicago State University)
  • Tim'm West Tim’m West (poet/performer/activist, Chicago)
  • Alisha Lola Jones Alisha Lola Jones (University of Chicago)


The Black Vocality symposium is part of the three-year project ROTVOSCIAME (The Role of Traditional Vocal Styles in Reshaping Cultural Identities Related to African Diasporas in America and Europe), designed by Gianpaolo Chiriacò. The research has been supported by a Marie Curie-International Outgoing Fellowship, financed by the European Union. The project looks at the history and anthropology of African-American singing styles across genres, and it aims to provide an interdisciplinary analysis of the different developments and connotations of vocality within the African diaspora.

Marie Curie Actions logo seal of Università del Salento

Preliminary Program

(subject to change without notice)

All symposium sessions and performances are free and open to Columbia College students, faculty, and staff, and to the general public. RSVPs are not necessary, but will be appreciated to facilitate event planning. Please send an RSVP email by September 10 to afrovocality@gmail.com.

Visit http://rotvosciame.com for additional information about the Black Vocality symposium.

Tuesday, September 24

8–9 a.m.

Registration (coffee will be served)

9–9:45 a.m.


Black Voices in North America and Europe

Monica Hairston O’Connell (Executive Director, Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago). Reflections on Black Voices in a Post Post-Racial Era.

Gianpaolo Chiriacò (University of Salento, CBMR Resident Fellow). I Sing Forever: Perceptions and Performances of a Black Vocality.

10 a.m.–noon

Session I

Gospel Vocality, Identity, and Popular Music

Alisha Lola Jones (University of Chicago, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology), session chair.

Session I will explore the various connections between what can be considered as an African-American vocality, with roots in gospel, and the broader field of popular music. Questions related to gender, identity, religion, and performance practices of specific vocal styles (e.g., melisma, falsetto) will be addressed.

Patrick Dailey (Boston University, School of Music). The Anatomy of a Black Voice: Peculiarities, Challenges, Regional Differences.

Katherine Meizel (Bowling Green State University, College of Musical Arts). Making the Song Your Own: Discourses of Race, Authenticity, and Melisma in the Twenty-First Century Pop Voice.

Alisha Lola Jones (University of Chicago, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology), Gendered Sound and Black Vocal Performances in Contemporary Gospel.

1:30–2:30 p.m.

CBMR Open House

Symposium participants are invited to visit the CBMR and the CBMR Library and Archives, located at 618 South Michigan Avenue, 6th floor.

3–5 p.m.

Session II

Talkative Ancestors: Improvisation and Cultural Memory

Nathan Bakkum (Columbia College Chicago, Department of Music), session chair.

Session II will address the different ways in which cultural memory (languages, traditions, sounds, religions, etc.) interacts with a spontaneous creativity in the extemporaneous act of vocal improvisation. Presenters will draw from their experiences as performers and teachers in order to describe this interrelation.

Bobbi Wilsyn (Columbia College Chicago, Department of Music). The Soul of a Jazz Singer: Recollection and Response.

Fabrizia Barresi (vocal performer and vocal teacher, Paris). Multilingualism as a Source of Inspiration.

Wednesday, September 25

9–10 a.m.

Registration (coffee will be served)

10 a.m.–noon

Session III

Words and Sound—Poetry and Storytelling.

Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Columbia College Chicago, Department of Dance), session chair.

Session III will focus on how words might be used in creative ways as a source of multiple meanings and as sounds, during a performance and beyond. Presenters will explain their main influences and how their techniques are rooted in an ancient heritage. Qualities related to the sound of voices will be discussed from the point of view of poets, singers, and storytellers, all within African-American traditions.

Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Columbia College Chicago, Department of Dance) and Stacy Rene Erenberg (Chicago State University). Sounds of Words: Within and without the Language.

Maggie Brown (vocal performer, Chicago). Creating a Personal Story: Songs and Narratives.

Tim’m West (poet, performer, and activist, Chicago). Deceptions of Old Glory: Hip-Hop as a Critique of Memory, Nostalgia, and Nationality.

2–4 p.m.

Session IV

Beyond Textuality: Black Music and Extended Vocal Techniques

Gianpaolo Chiriacò (University of Salento, CBMR), session chair.

Session IV will investigate the concept of a black avant garde in relation to vocal styles and techniques, from the specific perspective of two accomplished female vocalists and composers. The discussion will be rooted in the way their work reflects a broad sense of identity, as well as a profound social consciousness.

Mankwe Ndosi (vocal performer and activist, Minneapolis). Question the Frames/Activate the Everyday: Vocal Creativity and Its Resources.

Pamela Z (performer and composer, San Francisco). The Art of Performing: Voice, Body, Electronics.

7:30 p.m.


Mankwe Ndosi (vocal performer and activist, Minneapolis).
Pamela Z (performer and composer, San Francisco).