Baruch College music professor Kyra D. Gaunt’s book, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop (NYU Press, 2006), has been selected by the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) as a co-winner of the organization’s Alan Merriam Prize. The annual prize recognizes the most distinguished English-language monograph in the field of ethnomusicology published in the previous two years. SEM’s goal is to support the study of music making all over the world.
The book has been lauded by critics and musicologists since its publication last year; it was nominated for the 2007 American Musicological Society’s Lewis Lockwood Award for outstanding musicological book. Illustrating how black musical styles are incorporated into the earliest games African American girls learn—how, in effect, these games contain the DNA of black music—Gaunt draws on interviews, recordings of hand-clapping games and cheers, and her own observation and memories of game playing.
Gaunt is an ethnomusicologist and an associate professor of music jointly appointed in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. Her classroom and research interests focus on the impact of race, gender, music culture, and musical entrepreneurialism. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation and serves as a consultant for PBS’s Zoom and the Daytime Emmy–winning children’s program Between the Lions. Gaunt founded and leads an initiative called the Crossroads Project: The Committee on Diversity, Difference and Under-Representation for the SEM.
Deborah Wong, President Elect, Society for Ethnomusicology, made the following statement about Professor Gaun’ts book when the Merriam Prize was awarded. “The Games Black Girls Play is beautifully and passionately written. This book presents an engaging reflexive narrative that ranges from childhood memories to involvement with ethnomusicological scholarship.
Gaunt makes a convincing argument that the playsongs of African American girls is the foundation of African diasporic popular music-making. In a radical counter-history, she shows how African American girls—interlocutors who are triply minoritized through race, gender, and age—are producing music culture that has profound influences on popular music and the popular imagination. She calls for an engaged ethnomusicology and moves gracefully through an array of anti-essentialist perspectives on race and gender. She argues that ‘kinetic orality’ is key to African American musicking and that the body is always a locus of memory and communality. From somatic historiography to serious cross-talk with girls, Gaunt offers new methodologies for ethnomusicological work.
“The reader is pulled into a world in which Black girls are masters of musical knowledge, and in emerging from the book, we can’t see the world of American popular music in the same way. When we chant Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack is dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back, we suddenly see how musical play and embodied knowledge generates a world of raced and gendered sociality.”