Braxton Shelley

Braxton Shelley's picture
Associate Professor of Music, of Sacred Music, and of Divinity; Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church


Prof. Shelley came to Yale to teach, to continue his path-breaking work as a theorist of African American sacred music, and to serve as faculty director of the new Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church housed in the ISM. He is a scholar, an ordained minister, and an experienced church musician who will bring to Yale University much-needed attention to a vital and under-researched musical tradition.

A native of North Carolina, Prof. Shelley graduated with highest distinction from Duke University where he majored in music and minored in history. He then entered the Ph.D. program in the History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago. While finishing his Ph.D., he also earned a Master of Divinity degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School, upon which he was ordained in the Missionary Baptist church. In 2017, he was appointed assistant professor of music at Harvard University, where he has taught since.

Prof. Shelley is one of the most celebrated musicologists of his generation and on his way to be one of the most celebrated in any generation. He was awarded the Paul A. Pisk Prize in 2016 by the American Musicological Society (AMS) for the best paper by a graduate student. In 2018, he won the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award from the University of Chicago’s Division of the Humanities. His field-changing article “Analyzing Gospel,” which appeared in the Journal of the AMS, was awarded prizes from all three major American professional societies for music studies: the Einstein Award from the AMS, the Kunst Prize from the Society of Ethnomusicology, and the Adam Krims Award from the Popular Music Interest Group of the Society of Music Theory. Recognition from these three scholarly organizations illustrates the extraordinary interdisciplinary expertise Prof. Shelley brings to our campus.

Prof. Shelley’s first book, Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination, was published this year by Oxford University Press and was hailed by Prof. Cornel West as “the best book written on Gospel Music.” He added, “This instant classic forever changes modern scholarship in contemporary music and Black cultural performance.” Prof. Guthrie Ramsey of the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “This profound and illuminating book could only have been written by someone who’s spent years on the cultural frontline: in the pulpit, behind a Hammond B-3 organ, and immersed in the archives of gospel music’s history and lived experiences.”

A second book, under contract with the University of California Press, is entitled An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G.E. Patterson and the Afterlives of Ecstasy. It analyzes the great preacher’s musical style, his use of radio and other media, and the digital reverberation of his ministry after his death in 2007.

Prof. Shelley already has nearly a dozen articles and book chapters in press or published. He is also a frequent guest lecturer and clinician.



Music and the Black Church
Sacred Music
Program of Study: 
Music and the Black Church