The Harlem Resonance: Sound, Blackness and Ethnography at the William Grant Still Arts Center


Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowships


Ethnic Studies


William Grant Still Arts Center


During the 2020-21 academic year, performance ethnography workshops will be offered at the William Grant Still Arts Center in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. A member of the Harlem Renaissance, Still was described as the "Dean of African American Composers" and wrote numerous symphonies, operas and even music for film, offering novel sonic representations of African Americans in the public sphere. This project will present the ethnographic research methods of Zora Neale Hurston, another Harlem Renaissance figure who worked in sound. As two members of the Harlem renaissance, Hurston and Still experimented with African American aesthetics in sound; Hurston shared with Still a sense that African American cultural patrimony resonated especially in sound and song. The project is an effort to repatriate ethnographic methods Hurston developed, which broke from the salvage ethnography conventions of the times. The West Adams neighborhood's rapid gentrification has led to fears of cultural loss. Hurston's methods eschew salvage and promote cultural production. This collaborative performance ethnographic research is an integral part of “We See with the Skin”: Zora Neale Hurston’s Synesthetic Hermeneutics, where the innovations in Hurston’s ethnographic fieldwork methods are highlighted as well as her representations of this research and the models of theorizing and interpretation engaged in through each of the diverse media she employed.