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Portia Maultsby

November 5, 2012

Portia Maultsby is a professor, researcher, presenter, consultant, author, co-curator, program designer, multimedia consultant, and as of November 2012, a Charles Seeger Lecturer, one of the highest honors in Maultsby’s field of expertise, ethnomusicology.

Maultsby, the Laura Boulton Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, delivered the Seeger Lecturer at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in New Orleans. The society’s business office is based at IU Bloomington.

The lecture is named after Charles Seeger, a pioneer in the study of the science and history of music who was the father of legendary folk singer-songwriter Pete Seeger.

Maultsby is herself a pioneer in the study of music, particularly African American music. Beginning in 1979, she was one of the first scholars to conduct field research on African American popular music within the context of music industry. In 1983, she shadowed the vice president for urban (black) music promotion at Polydor Records’ New York office and an independent record promoter in Harlem.

Over the years, Maultsby has amassed nearly 200 interviews of artists, producers, songwriters, arrangers, radio and club DJs, as well as record company executives, managers, promoters and attorneys. For example, a 2008 grant from the Grammy Foundation for a project named Pioneers of Rhythm and Blues allowed Maultsby to document and preserve in-depth interviews with musicians such as singer Rufus Thomas, famous for his songs “Walking the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken”, as well as with personnel from record companies such as Stax and Motown. (Hear an excerpt from the Rufus Thomas interview here.) Maultsby’s interviews are housed in the Archives of African American Music and Culture, where she has served as founding director since 1991.

Recognizing the uniqueness in Maultsby’s research, in 1986, Bernice Johnson Reagon, then director of the program in black American culture at the Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, invited Maultsby to spearhead a two-day colloquium titled “Rhythm and Blues: 1945-1955.” The international coverage of this event, which featured a broad spectrum of representatives of the record industry, extended the range and impact of Maultsby’s work, including consultancies on film documentaries such as “Eyes on the Prize II” and the 2009 Carnegie Hall festival called “Honor! A Celebration of African American Cultural Legacy,” produced by renowned opera singer Jessye Norman.

Maultsby is currently a consultant for the National Museum of African American Music, slated for construction in Nashville, Tenn.

Recruited in 1971 to IU Bloomington’s Department of Afro-American Studies, with an affiliate appointment in the School of Music, Maultsby has developed courses on black popular music, including rap/hip-hop, and was the founding director of the black popular music ensemble, the IU Soul Revue. A keyboard player, she served as the group’s primary songwriter, arranger, and producer of commercial recordings. In 1977, the release “Music Is Just a Party” was selected by Billboard as a Top Single Pick in its First Time Around Category. The IU Soul Revue, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012, remains the only ensemble of its kind in the country.

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