Mellonee Burnim is professor emerita in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and retired Director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University-Bloomington. She is a past Director of the Ethnomusicology Institute at IU and has served as chairperson in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. She is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of North Texas and was selected as the first Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethnomusicology and Ritual Studies at the Yale Institute for Sacred Music in 2004. In 2001, Burnim was selected as a Ford Foundation womanist scholar at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She holds the BME (cum laude) in music education from North Texas State University (1971); MM in ethnomusicology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1976); and the PhD in ethnomusicology from Indiana University (1980).
As an ethnomusicologist with a specialization in African American religious music, Burnim has done fieldwork and led choral music workshops on African American religious music across the United States, as well as in Cuba and Malawi. She is co-editor of African American Music: An Introduction (Routledge 2006), now in its second edition (2015). This text has been widely adopted in universities across the US, and in 2020 it was named to the Zora Canon: The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written by African American Women. The 707- page work includes 30 essays by 25 authors representing the fields of ethnomusicology, musicology, composition, gender, ethnic and cultural studies. Section I of the text focuses on the chronological development of major African American musical genres, while the remaining three sections are devoted to synchronic interpretations of music-making that traverse genre boundaries—mass mediation, gender and agency. In 2016, Burnim co-edited Issues in African American Music: Race, Power, Gender and Representation (Routledge), which includes her research on women in the gospel music tradition and the gospel music industry.
As a public speaker, Burnim has shared her seminal research on Black religious music with audiences across the globe, including invited presentations at the University of Chicago, Wesleyan, Iowa State, Tulane, North Texas State University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Miami, the University of Ohio, Wesleyan and HBCU’s Fisk and Hampton. Seminaries and schools of theology where she has been invited to speak include Union Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio and Zomba Theological College in Malawi, Central Africa. Her roster of invited lectures also includes presentations at the Library of Congress and most recently, the Apollo Theater. In 2019, she gave the keynote address at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Burnim’s teaching acumen is strongly reflected by her having been chosen to lead six different week-long seminars on such African American music topics as Juke Joint to Choir Loft at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) during the years 1995-2004. Working with small groups of North Carolina teachers selected by the state for their demonstrated excellence in the classroom, Burnim provided content and culturally-informed interpretations of African American music, while modeling effective pedagogy that organizers conceived as inspirational reinforcement for Carolina’s finest to remain in the classroom long-term. During one session, several guest governors from other states considering adopting the NCCAT model were invited to attend Burnim’s seminar to observe teaching excellence in action.