Josephine Wright Earns One of Highest Honors in Field of Musicology

Longtime professor of music and Africana studies at Wooster named an Honorary Member of the AMS

WOOSTER, Ohio – Josephine Wright, the Josephine Lincoln Morris Professor of Black Studies, chair of the department of Africana studies, and professor of music at The College of Wooster, has attained one of the preeminent honors in her field, recently presented with an award of Honorary Membership by the American Musicological Society (AMS). She was one of two honorary members formally recognized at the AMS annual meeting in Boston on Nov. 2.

The AMS, the flagship society for musicologists in the U.S. and Canada, defines honorary members as those scholars “who have made outstanding contributions to furthering its stated object and whom the Society wishes to honor.” They are selected by a committee of the AMS Council each year.

“I was stunned when I received the news. Honorary membership is one of the highest honors that the AMS awards,” remarked Wright.

At the annual meeting, Wright was cited “as a pioneer in the study and teaching of women’s and African-Americans’ participation in musical life, and in the mentoring of younger women and scholars of color when there was not yet an AMS infrastructure to do so” and credited for being “one of the first to develop both courses and bibliographic resources about women composers and musicians, especially African-American women, and among the most enduringly involved.”

Wright, a member of the Wooster faculty since 1981, is an expert in African-American music, American music, women in music, and Western music history. Along with Eileen Southern, she co-authored “African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale, and Dance, 1600s-1920” (1990) and “Images: Iconography of Music in African-American Culture, 1770s-1920s” (2000), two publications that are key resources for scholars of African musicking.

While teaching and serving as a mentor to scores of Wooster students, Wright was a leader within her profession. She was the first women to be the editor of the quarterly journal “American Music” (1994-97), also becoming the first African-American to be appointed to such a position by a national musicological organization in the U.S. She also is a former book series editor of “Music and African-American Culture,” remains an advisor to the Grove Dictionary of American Music, published by Oxford University Press, and has contributed approximately 80 articles and reviews to scholarly journals and encyclopedias of music.

Wright credits her distinguished career, which includes a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Music in 2015, to a slight early in life. “For me, the (AMS) award represents the culmination of a very, very long journey that began when a colleague of my late mother advised her not to allow me to pursue the field of musicology in graduate school because in her opinion I would never work a day as a musicologist. Musicology was unknown in HBCUs at the time, and African-Americans were not being hired in any appreciable numbers as instructors or professors at predominantly white colleges and universities,” she said.

The AMS was founded in 1934 as a non-profit organization to advance “research in the various fields of music as a branch of learning and scholarship,” a mission that has since evolved to include teaching and learning about music in addition to research. There are 3,000 individual members and 800 institutional subscribers from 40 nations currently on the rolls of the Society.