Stephanie Vander Wel has served on the faculty at the University at Buffalo's Department of Music since 2008 after receiving her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her book Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Cowgirls: Women’s Country Music, 1930-1960, published by University of Illinois Press in 2020, explores the sonic and embodied performances of female country artists in relation to the expansion of early and mid-century country music in geographical locales significant to the production of country music: 1930s Chicago, 1940s California, and 1950s Nashville. The book’s focus on the role of musical performance highlights both the sonic qualities (notably the range, register, and timbre of vocal style) and theatrical conventions of women in country music, demonstrating the breadth of their performative agency and vision in articulating the complexities and paradoxes of white, rural, working-class womanhood within specific historical periods shaped by economic uncertainty and mobility, migration, shifts in gender roles, and industrialism. PopMatters has named Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Cowgirls one of the best nonfiction books for 2020. Todd Burns of Music Journalism Insider has interviewed Vander Wel about her book and how she came to write about women in country music.
She and country music historian Peter La Chapelle presented their respective recent books, with Jewly Hight as moderator, in the session “Locating Gender Performance, and Politics in the History of Music” of the Popular Music Book Series, a collaboration between Journal of Popular Music Studies, IASPM-US, and the Pop Conference.
Professor Vander Wel’s research and teaching interests focus on popular music, American music, women in music, and cultural theory addressing gender, race, and class. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Musical Quarterly, Journal of the Society for American Music, Southern Space, and others. Her essay on "The Singing Voice in Country Music" appears in the Oxford Handbook in Country Music, edited by Travis Stimeling (University of Oxford Press, 2017); and her essay "Weeping and Flamboyant Men: Webb Pierce and the Campy Theatrics of Country Music" appears in Pink Cowboys: Progressive Thought in Country Music, edited by Mark Jackson (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018). Her recent work explores the gendering of humor in country music.
In September of 2015, Vander Wel was invited to deliver a lecture, entitled "Rose Maddox's Roadhouse Vocality and the California Sound of 1950s Rockabilly and Honky-Tonk," at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/American Musicological Society Lecture Series. She has presented her work at annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, Experimental Music Project, International Country Music Conference, Society for American Music, Feminist Theory and Music, and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.