PhD in Performance Studies

Research

 
 
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"SINGING MASTER AND SLAVE: ELIZABETH TAYLOR GREENFIELD'S DOUBLE-VOICED AESTHETICS." (prospective submission to Theatre Survey)

Abstract: This essay develops a new analytic approach – what I call “an ear for history” – centering voice as a space of theatrical embodiment. Focusing on the antebellum performances of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, America’s first black concert vocalist, I argue this approach enables scholars to access subaltern sites of agency that evade the eye yet resound throughout the archive. Taylor Greenfield’s vocal acts were extraordinary for their perceived racial and gender transgressions: audiences heard her as a black woman singing white repertoire across quintessentially male registers. In analyzing “I am Free,” an emancipation ballad sung across soprano and bass registers and perceived "white" and "black" timbres, I argue that Taylor Greenfield subverted audience understandings of gendered and racialized sound by portraying both male slave owner and female slave, revealing that voices—like bodies—are performative and performatively enacted. Taylor Greenfield’s singing made audible a presumed one-to-one correspondence between body and voice, allowing her song to “steal away” from patriarchal and white supremacist power.

 

 


 'POWER IN THE TONGUE:' STAGING AMERICA IN RED, WHITE, AND BLACK (manuscript in progress)

Voice is the metaphor for power and enfranchisement in American democracy. Citizens exercising rights are figured as 'making their voices heard,' and elected leaders represent 'the voice of the people.' This recurring trope forces the question: what does citizenship sound like?

My book project, 'Power in the Tongue:' Sounding America in Red, White, and Black,  takes up this question by analyzing Native American, white, and African American voice performance from 1828 to 1861. During this time, voice was reconceptualized as an index of race and (dis)ability and evolved as a political metaphor with the power to shape the contours of citizenship. Using original archival research on minstrelsy and melodrama, sideshow, concert song, and dramatic reading, the manuscript explores how performances of "red," "white," and "black" vocal sounds recorded, reproduced, or contested a soundtrack of American citizenship.

 

 


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Review: “A DIFFERENT VOICE, A DIFFERENT SONG: RECLAIMING COMMUNITY THROUGH THE NATURAL VOICE AND WORLD SONG" by Carolin Bithell. Voice. Spec. issue Twentieth-Century Music. 13 no. 1.  (March 2016): n.p.


"CRIPPLED SPEECH" Voice Matters. Spec. issue Postmodern Culture. 24 no. 3 (May 2014)

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Abstract: QuietBob97 is an alaryngeal speaker who foregrounds prosthetic voices in a series of sound-only YouTube videos. With performances designed to retrain a listener’s ear for different voices, QuietBob aspires to dismantle the stigma of un-naturalness that places the humanness of his voice (and his self) in question. This essay reads QuietBob’s performative moves to develop a theory of crippled speech – the representational crippling of speech and the concomitant desubjectification that attends bodies of vocal difference. Working between crip theory and Foucault’s norm, crippled speech contributes to sound and disability studies
a new paradigm for hearing and thinking vocal alterity.


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“THE ACOUSTICS OF PASSING: HARRIET BEECHER STOWE'S UNCLE TOM'S CABIN AS SUPREMACIST REMIX." SoundingOut! 23 December 2013.

Abstract: At a time when public speaking was out of the question for respectable women, Harriet Beecher Stowe gave her anti-slavery platform a national hearing through her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Yet Stowe’s novel required a voice that could “speak” in morally efficacious tones against slavery. To stage this voice, one that hinged on a sonic appeal to inter-racial sympathy, Stowe scored a new politically agentive mode of performance, what I term the acoustics of passing. A vocal melodrama (a literal speech act) in black and white, the acoustics of passing spoke felicitously against slavery as a racially "mixed" sonic schema -- one simultaneously reflecting what antebellum America heard as the pathos of black vocality, and the patriotic virtue of white Republican oratory. In this essay, I analyze how Stowe scored this vocal acoustic through her mixed race character, specifically George Harris in the novel's famous passing scene. In a nod to the larger work of the manuscript chapter, I conclude by foreshadowing how Stowe deployed this acoustics to control mixed-race female vocal artists Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield and Mary Webb.