The past weekend was a memorable one for Professor Braxton Shelley who learned he had received four awards for his book, Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2021). The awards were announced at a gathering in New Orleans of three of the largest North American organizations of music scholars—the American Musicological Society, the Society for Music Theory and the Society for Ethnomusicology.
The Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society recognizes a musicological book of exceptional merit published by a scholar in the early stages of their career. The Emerging Scholar Award-Book from the Society for Music Theory is given for an outstanding book published within seven calendar years of the author’s receipt of the Ph.D. The Society for Ethnomusicology awarded Shelley two prizes. The Ruth Stone Prize honors the most distinguished English language monograph in the field of ethnomusicology by a new author. The inaugural Portia K. Maultsby Prize also recognizes a distinguished English language monograph in the field of ethnomusicology, but with the focus on African American music and/or Black music of the diaspora.
Shelley said, “I am positively blown away by the reception of my first book across the subfields of music scholarship. And I am glad that the study of Black gospel has been recognized in this way.”
Shelley’s book uses the work of renowned gospel musician, Richard Smallwood, to clarify the significance of the vamp to the Black gospel tradition. Sometimes also known as “the run”, “the drive”, or “the special”, the vamp describes the reiteration and intensification of the song lyrics that transform the music into something much more potent—something with a greater spiritual power. Shelley explores why vamps are so important in gospel music, placing Smallwood’s oeuvre in conversation with the work of twenty more gospel composers. Together, these musicians and their music illuminate what Shelley calls “the Gospel Imagination.”
Shelley is associate professor of Sacred Music, Divinity and Music with appointments at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), Yale Divinity School and the Yale Department of Music. He is also director of ISM’s Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church.
Read a related article in YaleNews, “Pathbreaking books about Black music win major honors for Brooks and Shelley.”