Theses Doctoral

Sounding "Black": An Ethnography of Racialized Vocality at Fisk University

Newland, Marti

Through the example of students at Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, this dissertation ethnographically examines how vocality is racialized as "black" in the United States. For students at Fisk, voice serves as a mechanism of speaking and singing, and mediates ideological, discursive, embodied and affective constructions of blackness. Fisk built its legacy by cultivating and promoting a specific kind of New World blackness through vocal expression, and the indispensability of Fisk's historical legacy shapes how the university continues to promote the self-worth of its students as well as a remembrance of and recommitment to the social justice and citizenship journey of black people through the 21st century. The relationships between expressive culture, the politics of racial inequality, and higher education experiences overdetermine Fisk students' vocality in relation to blackness, in addition to students' agentive choices to express and (re)form black racial identity. This dissertation traces the differences between curricular and non-curricular vocality to foreground the ways that students resist 21st century forms of racial violence and create paths towards the world they desire. The project opens with an analysis of the role of diction in the performance practice of the Fisk Jubilee SingersĀ®. The following chapter compares the repertoire and rehearsal style of the two primary choral ensembles at Fisk. The dissertation then explores how the neo soul genre figures in the Fisk Idol vocal competition. The concluding chapter describes students' different renditions of singing the university's alma mater, "The Gold and the Blue." These analyses of students' embodied, ritualized vocality show how Fisk students' voices performatively (re)construct blackness, gender, class, genre and institutionality.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Fox, Aaron
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014