Theses Doctoral

Sounding and Signifyin’: Representation and the Theatrical Black Voice

Mohammed, Michael

This qualitative dissertation identifies musical strategies that black theatre singers use when presenting and representing music that integrates western classical vocal aesthetics with stylistic genres of traditionally black forms like gospel, jazz, and blues. This study investigates the use of the voice by five black opera and musical theatre performers and the approaches that they take in the representation of music that requires integrated vocality, which integrates elements from western classical traditions with those from black popular and folk idioms. Data were collected through audio/visual analysis, interviews, and video stimulated recall, presented through narrative analysis. Three emergent themes are explored are as follows: Authenticity is rooted in the singer’s experience of cultural traditions and expression; technique is a means of personal and cultural expression and provides the opportunity for personal liberation, and; a singer positions themself at the nexus of their cultural legacy as a learner, exemplar, advocate, and transmitter of culture.

The implications for educators at the tertiary level are discussed in the final chapter. Alignment of technique, personal expression, and identity infuses a singer’s sound with meaning; fostering the black singer’s use of their cultural capital helps them transform their life experiences into artistic interpretation. Representation, the use of signs that link a person to their cultural circles, is an act of re-humanization, combating dehumanization caused by systematic and societal exclusion by placing positive images at the center of their cultural legacy. In higher education, pre-professional training becomes humanizing when expression is viewed as a means of critical understanding of a student’s lived experience. Also, inspiring persons with marginalized identities requires re-centralizing power toward those who can imagine themselves transforming the entertainment industry into a more inclusive artistic space.


  • thumnail for Mohammed_tc.columbia_0055E_11084.pdf Mohammed_tc.columbia_0055E_11084.pdf application/pdf 1.18 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Parkes, Kelly A.
Ed.D.C.T., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2020