‘She Sang Freedom’ to kick off Black History Month

By JP Graham | Reporter

Dr. Tammy Kernodle, professor of musicology at Miami University, is set to perform at 7 p.m. Thursday in Baylor’s Bennet Auditorium, where she will kick off Black History Month by covering such artists as Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Roberta Flack.

Kernodle was recently elected president of the Society for American Music, which makes her the second female African American president in the organization’s history. To round out her resume, Kernodle was invited to speak at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this past fall about her work involving the Gospel Blues and the four artists mentioned above.

Thursday’s event will celebrate Black History Month with a combination of performances and lectures that display the importance of music during the civil rights era. Robert Darden, professor and founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, said Kernodle’s knowledge of the history of these artists, in addition to being able to recreate their work, is no less than impressive.

“It’s just a great, joyful combination of this person who can write a book with 2,000 footnotes and then turn around and entertain and educate 2,000 people,” Darden said. “Not many people wear both hats.”

Darden said Kernodle was the university’s first choice for the celebration of Black History Month because of her ability to sing songs with the impact they were originally written to carry, in addition to her ability to share with others about her areas of expertise.

Darden had no trouble finding support from other departments for the event. In fact, Darden said he had to stop requesting partnerships because he had received so many positive responses.

Kernodle is the author of the biography “Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams.” Kernodle has also served as associate editor for the three-volume Encyclopedia of African American Music and senior editor for the revision of the New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Her extensive knowledge and appreciation for Gospel music helps round out her performance, in which she expresses the impact each artist made on the civil rights era.

Mobile, Ala., sophomore Everett Coleman, a political science major with a musical background, addressed the importance of celebrating Black History Month.

“It’s important to recognize and celebrate the positive impact that African Americans have had on American culture,” Coleman said. “Black history is as much American history as the history that we read in text books.”

Coleman emphasized the role music plays in getting listeners through tough times. He said music allows people to escape adversity, helping relieve anger and providing hope.

“Music comes from struggle and expression,” Coleman said. “For black people, music tells a story of hope for the future and understanding of the past.

Darden said the impact African American music places on the music industry can be directly observed in the music Americans listen to today.

“At the foundation of all American popular music is African American music,” Darden said. “You hear it today in Kendrick Lamar just like you hear it today in Kings of Leon. It’s still there based on these forms.”

The event is sponsored by The Pruit Symposium Endowment Fund, American Studies, Communication Studies, Department of History, Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media, The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, The College of Arts & Sciences, Baylor School of Music and Truett Theological Seminary.

A reception with Kenodle will follow the concert Thursday, which is free and open to the public.