Kay Kaufman Shelemay is the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and a professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University. An ethnomusicologist who has carried out fieldwork in Ethiopia, Israel, and the United States, she explores ways in which music shapes broader cultural processes, ranging from its generative role within religious rituals to its importance in enhancing and sustaining memory.
While at Radcliffe, Shelemay will write a book about Ethiopian music and musicians in the United States, exploring musical performance as a creative process through which the Ethiopian immigrant community negotiates ethnic, religious, and social boundaries. Her project will converge with that of a cluster exploring Ethiopian Christian creativity in its American diaspora, situating interpretation of immigrant ritual and musical practices within the framework of historical memories of and ongoing transnational connections to Ethiopia.
Shelemay, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2000, also holds fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation this year. She is a past president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and a congressional appointee to and former chair of the board of trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Among her publications are Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (Michigan State University, 1986), which won both the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award and a prize from the International Musicological Society, and the textbook Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World (Norton, 2001), which recently appeared in a revised second edition.