Royal Musical Association Awards Dent Medal to Prof. Mark Burford

The scholar has spent the past 10 years focused on Black popular music studies, from Sam Cooke to Mahalia Jackson.

By Rebecca Jacobson | December 21, 2022

Mark Burford, R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, has been awarded the Royal Musical Association’s Dent Medal for 2022.

The award, named for scholar and musician Edward J. Dent, has been given annually since 1961 to a mid-career music scholar for their outstanding contribution to musicology. In its announcement, the award committee wrote that Burford’s research “is distinctive and broad reaching in its implications for the field, melding music’s sonic aspects and political valences, linking histories of music to the history of complex ideas, and writing in a highly engaging manner.”

Burford, who’s been at Reed since 2007, began his career with a focus on Brahms and Austro-German concert music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the last 10 years, though, he’s turned his attention to Black popular music studies. His 2012 article, “Sam Cooke as Pop Album Artist—A Reinvention in Three Songs,” won the Irving Lowens Article Award from the Society for American Music. His 2019 monograph Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field earned numerous prizes, including the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey Award, considered the top honor in the field. Burford also edited The Mahalia Jackson Reader, published in 2020.

The Dent Medal committee noted that Burford “has opened up a new field, offering Black objects of study as a legitimate and productive focus for musicological enquiry.” They went on: “His wider contribution to musicology is a compassionate demonstration of how we might productively rethink the racialisations of the discipline’s past.”

Burford teaches courses on music history, African American music, popular music, and nineteenth-century music. Recent courses have included Women in ’60s Popular Music and Music and the Black Freedom Struggle. During his sabbatical last year he began a new project on W. E. B. Du Bois and music, focusing on music coverage in NAACP magazine The Crisis during Du Bois’s editorship.

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements, Professors