About Maya Cunningham
Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, a Fulbright Scholar, a cultural activist, a Black Music practitioner (jazz vocals) and visual artist. Her research focus is on culturally responsive music education for African American students, African American cultural identity and intersections between African/African American identities and traditional African and African American musics. She is an expert in African American expressive culture, African American history and jazz history. As a jazz musician and visual artist Cunningham fuses her music with works in textile, glass, paint and mixed media. As a jazz vocalist in the tradition of Abbey Lincoln, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Lorez Alexandria, Cunningham performed Max Roach's We Insist: Freedom Now Suite at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the African American national anthem for Winnie Mandela during her 2003 visit to New York City. She sings in several African languages, including Ewe, Bamana, and Setswana. For more about Maya Cunningham's vocal jazz visit MayaCunninghamMusic.com.
Cunningham is completing a PhD at the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in African American studies with a concentration in ethnomusicology. Cunningham received a MA in Afro-American Studies from UMass, a MA in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park, a MA in jazz performance from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and a Bachelor of Music in jazz studies from Howard University. Cunningham is also currently a lecturer in the Department of Music and Theatre at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she teaches courses on Black music, including the music and cultural traditions of Africa.
In 2022 Cunningham published, “The Hush Harbor as Sanctuary: African American Survival Silence During British/American Slavery,” will be featured in Bloomsbury's United Kingdom collection called Sonic Histories of Occupation: Sound and Imperialism in Global Context (Taylor and Skelchy, eds). Another book chapter, “Singing Power/Sounding Identity: The Black Woman's Voice from Hush Harbors and Beyond” is included in the The Routledge Companion to Black Women’s Cultural Histories, edited by Janell Hobson (2021). Cunningham has also published public facing work, like the 2021 Smithsonian Folkways Black History Sound Collage, a curated playlist and accompanying essay.
In 2017 she received a Fulbright fellowship to research how traditional music is used to teach national identity to primary school students in Botswana. Cunningham is also a two-time award recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar fellowship to study African American Gullah culture, as well as African American culture and blues traditions in the Mississippi Delta. In 2016 she received a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship and a Fund for Teachers fellowship to research traditional music in Ghana and India. She has presented her research and writing at conferences nationally and internationally. These include the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Association for the Study of African American Life and Culture (ASALH), the National Council for Black Studies (NCBS), the University of Nottingham, the University of Albany and New York University. She most recently presented a paper at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Cunningham launched the Ethnomusicology In Action in 2017, a project of Themba Arts and Culture, Inc. to use research in Black music and culture to empower Afro-descendant children through learning opportunities about their history, culture and traditional music through research-based curricula and professional development for teachers. Ethnomusicology In Action also aims to increase public awareness of Black music traditions through music recordings and broadcast media, like radio.
Maya Cunningham has traveled all over the world conducting research and learning traditional music. She is a member of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Secretary of the African and African Diasporic Music Section. She is also Co-Chair of the HBCU outreach committee of the Gertrude Robinson Network of Black Ethnomusicologist. Recently, she served on the Documenting Jazz Conference and Programme Committee, held at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Maya Cunningham was featured in the Spring 2021 Guest Artist Series at Comsumnes River College where she presented her research on using ethnomusicology and models from Botswana, Ghana and Washington DC's African American community in creating culturally responsive music education pedagogy for Afro-descendant students. Click to listen or tune in below.
“The Sound World of Harriet Tubman,” Ms. Magazine, Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Celebration, February 17, 2022
“A People In Flight: African Americans in Movement,” Smithsonian Folkways Records, February 22, 2022”
“The Hush Arbour As Sanctuary: African American Survival Silence During British/American Slavery,” Sonic Histories of Occupation: Experiencing Sound and Empire in a Global Context, Edited by Russell Skelchy and Jeremy Taylor, 2022.
“Singing Power/Sounding Identity: The Black Woman’s Voice from Hidden Hush Arbors to the Popular,” The Routledge Companion to Black Women’s Cultural Histories, Edited By Janell Hobson, 2021.
“A Black History Month Sound Collage,” Smithsonian Folkways Records, February 22, 2021
Maya Cunningham - Curriculum Vitae (Download)