About Maya Cunningham
Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, cultural activist and jazz vocalist. 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.
Her forthcoming book chapter, “The Hush Harbor as Sanctuary: African American Survival Silence During British/American Slavery,” will be featured in a Bloomsbury collection called Sonic Histories of Occupation: Sound and Imperialism in Global Context (Taylor and Skelchy, eds), forthcoming in 2022. Another book chapter, “Singing Power/Sounding Identity: The Black Woman's Voice from Hush Harbors and Beyond” is included in the forthcoming The Routledge Companion to Black Women’s Cultural Histories, edited by Janell Hobson.
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 has 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.
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.
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.