Arts & Humanities

Prof. Burford Wins Awards For Book on Mahalia Jackson

“Magisterial” study of gospel icon earns critical acclaim.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | November 19, 2020

Prof. Mark Burford, the R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, has won a triplet of prestigious awards for his recent book about the iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who achieved international fame for her powerful voice and leadership in the civil-rights movement. 

Published by the Oxford University Press, the book, Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field, has earned widespread critical acclaim both as a vivid biography and as a broad account of the intersection of music, race, politics, and American culture in the 20th century.

Born in New Orleans in 1911, Jackson moved to Chicago during the Great Migration and eventually became the most esteemed figure in black gospel music history, reaching international audiences with her powerful performances and charismatic artistry. In the 1950s and 1960s she played an increasingly prominent role in the civil-rights movement, singing hits such as “Move On Up A Little Higher” and “How I Got Over” at marches and rallies. In 1963, she sang for an audience of 250,000 people at the March on Washington before Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Prof. Burford was honored with:

  • the Woody Guthrie Award for the most outstanding book on popular music from the U.S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. The awards committee praised the book as “an exemplary study that will no doubt be seen as a landmark in musicology and cultural history, seamlessly and brilliantly blending scholarship and biography. It is magisterial both in its broader scope and in its attention to detail.”
  • the Award for Excellence for the best history book in the category of historical research in blues, soul, gospel, or R&B from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections; and 
  • the Otto Kinkeldey Award for outstanding book by a senior scholar in the field of musicology from the American Musicological Society. “Mark Burford deftly challenges the conventional historiography of gospel music,” said the AMS. “He does this by setting the scene for his rich and fascinating biographical history, which raises critical questions about the politics of race, religion, gender, and identity in the decade following World War II.”

“What is most gratifying about receiving the Kinkeldey Award, beside it being the top honor in my field, is the fact that the book was measured against the entire range of musicological scholarship, from the Renaissance to Bach and Beethoven to high modernism,” says Burford. “For a study on Black gospel music to be recognized in that context suggests shifts in the intellectual terrain of the discipline more broadly and affirms the questions that I pose at the heart of my classes.”

Prof. Burford teaches courses in music, history, American studies, and comparative race and ethnicity studies. Recent courses include Race Sexuality, and Empire on the Operatic Stage; Music and the Black Freedom Struggle; Women and Performance in 1960s Popular Music; and Music and the Cold War.

Burford also edited The Mahalia Jackson Reader, which was published in March.

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements, Books, Film, Music, Diversity/Inclusion, Performing Arts, Professors