The Showroom

In conversation: Dr. Tammy Kernodle with Elaine Mitchener, Siya Makuzeni & Thandi Ntuli

American musician and scholar Dr. Tammy L. Kernodle hosts A Rejection of Sonic Femininity with three IN·FLO·RES·CENCE composers: British vocalist Elaine Mitchener, South African trombone player Siya Makuzeni, and South African jazz pianist Thandi Ntuli.


This discussion includes an introduction by the project's commissioner, Filmmaker Producer Reece Ewing, to IN·FLO·RES·CENCE’s focus on the cross-modality of art and sound and our guest host Dr. Tammy L. Kernodle. Dr. Kernodle, President of the Society for American Music, is one of the US's most esteemed musicologists often featured on the BBC and a seminal writer, such as for Beyond the Chord: A Historical and Musicological Perspective of the Jazz Avant-Garde for The Walker Art Center's Creative Black Museum Living Collection. Considering her scholarship on jazz and gender, this conversation jumps off from the 1959 shift after the big band era, focusing on burgeoning experimentalism and open-mindedness in jazz throughout the 70s/80s and leading into contemporary practices and ideas of sonic femininity today.

The conversation begins by discussing female jazz vocalists that emerged in the late 1920s. They muse on the symbolic imprisonment of the microphone, a device that created a vocal aesthetic of subtle and sonic femininity, in contrast to the more guttural and belting of blues vocals. The speakers then delve into the shift in the late 20th century of black women pushing against and resisting the policing of their bodies and voices. This resistance culture – a rejection of sonic femininity – is tied to the emergence of the jazz avant-garde and the Civil Rights struggle, with a newfound call to action to centralise and amplify radical female voices. These voices also pointed to the expansive ways in which black women participated in and conceptualised art, expanding music and visual expression through ideas of sound poetry and physical movement – asking: what does freedom sound like?


Dr. Tammy L. Kernodle is a musician and scholar that teaches and researches in the areas of African American music and gender and music. She has worked closely with a number of educational programs including National Museum of African American History and Culture, NPR, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the BBC. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, and anthologies. Kernodle is the author of biography Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams, served as Associate Editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of African American Music and the Editorial team for the revision of the Grove Dictionary of American Music. She is currently Professor of Musicology at Miami University in Oxford, OH and the President of the Society for American Music.

Each IN·FLO·RES·CENCE composer engages with Dr. Kernodle's research by addressing ideas including: how did they find themselves in their early careers ever needing to represent the ideal female jazz singer; where their power and agency as musicians stems from; the moment they all discovered their voice technically and symbolically; how a musical rhetoric of social change influences all of their practice; and sheroes like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, Jeanne Lee, who all represent consciousness and activism through music.

After focusing on each composer's individual practice, Dr. Kernodle references the mission of her current research: to challenge the narratives situating music as being art for arts sake progressed by master male musicians, and deliberately centring the paradigmatic experiences of black female musicians. She frames Elaine Mitchener, Siya Makuzeni, and Thandi Ntuli - whilst all distinct practitioners - as part of a genealogy of women who constantly redefine what art, sound, resistance, and freedom is.

In performance contexts when reflecting on her black female music heroes, Dr Tammy L. Kernodle says: 'These black women musicians used music as a means of documenting and promoting the struggle for equality and social justice in America. Be ready to experience the story of various historical contexts from slavery, to the Civil Rights Movements, to the proliferation of the Black Power movement in the 1970s.'


New book: Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams (2020)

A Q+A: Where Dr. Kernodle answers questions about her inspirations, discoveries, and reader takeaways

Introduction: Living Collections Catalogue: Creative Black Music at the Walker: Selections from the Archives, 'Beyond the Chord, the Club, and the Critics: A Historical and Musicological Perspective of the Jazz Avant-Garde'

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