Kira Thurman: On Beethoven, Blackness, and Belonging: Listening to German Music in the Black Atlantic

A Zoom talk on February 19 at 4 p.m., presented by the Music Department, the German Department, American Studies, and the Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies Program.

What has classical music meant to Black people? Why have African Americans listened to and performed a genre of music that many Americans now consider to be white, elitist, and Eurocentric? Such accusations aren't inaccurate: for example, African Americans represent only 1.8 percent of all orchestra musicians today. In this presentation, Professor Kira Thurman turns to the past to consider how African Americans made classical music a meaningful part of their lives. Examining the lives and careers of intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and classical musicians such as Marian Anderson, Thurman argues that African Americans incorporated art music into their Black international and Black diasporic politics. Looking beyond America's shores, they found a larger and vibrant Black history of classical music that they could also claim. 

Bio
Kira Thurman is an assistant professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and History at the University of Michigan. A classically-trained pianist who grew up in Vienna, Austria, Thurman earned her PhD in history from the University of Rochester with a minor field in musicology from the Eastman School of Music. Her research focuses on two topics that occasionally converge: the relationship between music and German national identity, and Central Europe's historical and contemporary relationship with the Black diaspora. She is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including a Fulbright fellowship to Germany, the Berlin Prize from the American Academy of Berlin, and a residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Her article, "Black Venus, White Bayreuth: Race, Sexuality, and the De-Politicization of Wagner" won the German Studies Association's DAAD prize for best article on German history in 2014. Her book, Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press. A firm believer in public engagement, Thurman has published articles in magazines such as The New Yorker, served as a consultant for PBS documentaries and public radio projects, and has worked with different orchestras, opera houses, and music ensembles on programming and public education. Together with colleagues across the United States and Europe and with the support of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., she runs the public history website, blackcentraleurope.com.

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Friday, February 19, 2021 at 4:00pm

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