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Spelman College Faculty Stories

Faculty Stories

Carnegie/Rockefeller Division of the Arts Priority Award Winner Paula Grissom Boughton

April 2022

Paula Grissom Boughton | Department of Music
In Her Voice"
Medium: Poetry and Music

Spelman Carnegie/Rockefeller Priority Awardee Paula Grissom Boughton"In Her Voice" is a digital song cycle set to the poetry text written by poet, activist, and English professor Sharan Strange. A song cycle is a group of individually complete songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a unit.

This song cycle comprises three songs, each song representing a particular stage of a woman's life – girlhood, "teenhood" or young adult, and womanhood – with music that suggests the woman's personality traits at that phase of her life. For instance, the first song/poem represents "girlhood," so the music reflects the innocence of a young girl fascinated and captivated by all the women who shape her life – her mother, grandmothers, aunts, and Godmothers.

Composed for poet, voice and piano, "In Her Voice" addresses the intersections of social and cultural constructions in the United States from a feminist and Black feminist perspective. As an active musician, scholar, and researcher on race and gender in the music classroom, Paula Grissom-Broughton, Ph.D. sought to compose the music to add a collaborative repertoire of historical and cultural understandings outside the traditional Western European patriarchal canon. The women griottes of West Africa were singers and musicians who preserved their people's historical narratives and culture. Therefore, the overarching philosophy of "In Her Voice" is to emphasize the importance of Black women telling their own stories through their music. 

Internationally acclaimed soprano Maria Clark serves as the griotte. She gives life to the words through her moving performance across the idioms of art song, jazz, and gospel – music genres that one can identify in the song cycle. A live version of In Her Voice will be premier in March 2022 within a concert featuring music by other African American composers. 

The project advanced Dr. Grissom-Broughton's creative practice by providing another artistic dimension to the feminist pedagogical approach to experiencing music. In addition, by composing the music to accompany the poetry of other women of color, this project serves as a model to discover how poetic storytelling may inform and influence compositional processes and practices.

The final presentation of "In Her Voice" will be a short "docu-music" video that integrates the music of all three songs, along with imagery reflected in the poetry.