Berklee's Africana Studies Division Expands Curriculum to Include Gospel Music

The area of focus will be the first of five that will be part of future programming in Black music and culture.

September 13, 2022

Berklee's Africana Studies Division is expanding its offerings to include a focus on the performance and study of gospel music.

The gospel music focus, which will include both curricular and cocurricular offerings, is the first of five such areas that are being planned as part of the Bachelor of Arts degree program in Black music and culture that is currently in development. This fall, Berklee faculty and gospel musicians, including Dennis Montgomery, Gabrielle Goodman, David Alexis, Jonathan Singleton, Lil’ John Roberts, Mark Copeland, Nichelle Mungo, Jerome Kyles, Vaughn Brathwaite, and Dr. John Paul McGee will conduct clinics and workshops centered on their respective areas of expertise in the genre. Additional course offerings are envisioned as soon as the spring of 2023 semester, and the new degree program hopes to welcome its first students in fall 2024.

The Africana Studies Division was founded as a response to student, staff, faculty, and alumni activism and advocacy. Scholar and educator Emmett G. Price III was hired as the division’s inaugural dean in August 2021. Price is working with colleagues in the division, and across the College and Conservatory, to design a comprehensive academic program that will combine music performance with historical and social contextualization and integrated study of business and industry, with an eye towards innovation and entrepreneurial acumen.

"Birthed from the blues, negro spirituals, and protestant hymnody, gospel music gave rise to not only a deeply moving and emotive style of performance but also expanded a thriving segment of the entertainment and media industry while having an undeniable impact on various cultures and societies around the globe,” said Price. “From Arizona Dranes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey, and Reverend James Cleveland to Minister Kurt Carr, Donald Lawrence, Yolanda Adams, and Kirk Franklin, gospel music has emerged as a major force for hope, healing, and resilience worldwide.” 

Students focusing on gospel music will study innovators such as the "African Queen of Gospel" Rebecca Malope through a curriculum that focuses on performance, contextual history, and analysis of the dynamic impact of the art, industry, and culture of gospel music around the world.

The Africana Studies Division plans to expand its reach to Berklee's campuses in Valencia, Spain, and New York City. It will be the preeminent global hub where mastery in performance and academic excellence intersect to reflect the brilliance, resilience, and hope of Black culture. 

During the 2022–2023 academic year, Dr. Teresa Hairston, a gospel music scholar, will complete the second of her two-year appointment as a Berklee visiting scholar in residence. She is the trailblazing publisher of Gospel Today magazine, which she founded in 1989 as a four-page newsletter. Kurt Carr, a four-time Stellar Award winner recognized for his achievement in the gospel music industry, will be a visiting artist in residence during the 2022–2023 academic year.

"I have been involved in all aspects of the gospel community for many years, and this program is sorely needed," said Hairston. "Dr. Emmett Price's dynamic leadership in orchestrating this program shows that he and Berklee are willing to be holistic in their offerings to students. It also represents cultural innovation and sensitivity. Gospel music is the bedrock of American music. It has influenced everyone from Ray Charles to the Queen of Soul to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, but gospel hasn't been afforded the respect in academia that it deserves. Finally, the time has come when systems are changing to embrace today's vibrant and diverse culture! I'm excited to be a part of it!"

Price’s multi-prong approach will include working with the Berklee Career Center to build a student-centered, community-facing program that engages and partners with both the music industry and local and national congregations. The combination of both academic and experiential education will not only provide students access to display their talents in a practice-oriented manner but also for the college’s industry, community, and congregational partners to benefit from the exceptional talent at Berklee. The second goal will be to leverage the institution’s global platform to contribute to the research that is being conducted and the scholarship that is being produced globally on the rich influence and impact of gospel music on art, industry, and culture.