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Kay Kaufman Shelemay

G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Kay Kaufman Shelemay is the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music at Harvard University and a former Chair of the Department of Music. An ethnomusicologist specializing in musics of Africa, the Middle East, and the urban United States, she received her Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Michigan.

The author of numerous articles and reviews, Shelemay's book Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986), won both the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1987 and the Prize of the International Musicological Society in 1988. Other major publications include A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey (1991); Ethiopian Christian Chant: An Anthology (3 vols., 1993-97), co-authored with Peter Jeffery; and Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews, University of Chicago Press, 1998 (finalist for the National Jewish Book Award). She edited the seven-volume Garland Library of Readings in Ethnomusicology, (Garland Publishing 1990). She also edited Studies in Jewish Musical Traditions in 2001 and co-edited Pain and its Transformations: The Interface of Biology and Culture (with Sarah Coakley) published by Harvard University Press in 2007. In 2011, she edited (with Steven Kaplan) a special double volume of the journal Diaspora. A Journal of Transnational Studies, titled "Creating the Ethiopian Diaspora." The second edition of her textbook, Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World, was published by W.W. Norton in 2006. Shelemay is currently preparing the third edition of Soundscapes, and is writing a book on musicians from the Horn of Africa in transnational motion based on ethnography carried out across North America.

Shelemay was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and has been awarded a number of major postdoctoral fellowships, including grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Radcliffe Institute. She is Past-President of the Society for Ethnomusicology and in 2012 completed terms as a congressional appointee to and former chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Shelemay was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000, a member of the American Academy of Jewish Research in 2004, a fellow of the American Philosophical Society in 2013, and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences in 2014. A Walter Channing Cabot Fellow at Harvard for 2001-2002, she held the Chair for Modern Culture at the Library of Congress during 2007-2008.

Before joining the Harvard faculty in 1992, Shelemay taught at Columbia University, where she received an award for distinguished teaching, at New York University, and at Wesleyan University. She received the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize at Harvard in 2006, and the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award in 2014. Shelemay was the Phi Beta Kappa/Frank M. Updike Memorial Scholar for 2010-2011. In 2010, she received the Society for Ethnomusicology Jaap Kunst Prize for the most distinguished article published by a member in 2009.


  • –present
    Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University