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2010 Lecture: George Lipsitz
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The 2010 Society for Ethnomusicology Seeger Lecturer is the distinguished historian George Lipsitz. In truth, to call Professor Lipsitz a historian is to seriously underestimate the importance of an expansive and yet focused history of scholarly work that has helped to shape the current configuration of many fields and disciplines, including ethnomusicology. In different contexts he may be called a scholar of labor, workers’, and class history; ethnic studies; sociology; African American studies; popular music and popular culture; race; American studies; urban culture; social movements; social history; and so on. Tying together these many threads has been his unwavering attention to themes of social justice and equity.

Ethnomusicologists working on issues of race will be well acquainted with his path-breaking study, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (1998). But most will know him as a leading voice in popular music and popular culture studies. Among his books that have had the most influence in ethnomusicology and popular music studies, one can count Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture (2001), Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Focus of Place (1994), and Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music (2007).

Among his interesting interventions in musical studies has been his editing of autobiographies by popular musicians, including Johnny Otis’s Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue and Preston Love’s A Thousand Honey Creeks Later: My Life in Music from Basie to Motown and Beyond. Lipsitz followed up on the Otis autobiography with an insightful study of Otis and his career in West Coast R&B called Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (2010), material that will serve as a point of departure for his Seeger Lecture, entitled, "Midnight at the Barrelhouse: Music and Collective Memory in Los Angeles."

This recent work reminds us of one of the great strengths of Lipsitz’s work: he is simultaneously capable of drawing on a range of case studies, anecdotes, and historical details to construct insightful theories and generalizations, while also boring down deeply into the details of personal biography or the chronicles of place to reveal America to itself in new ways. Witness his 1998 biography of the activist Ivory Perry (A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition), who was best known for initiating the movement to recognize and confront lead poisoning in poor children, or his look at his former home of St. Louis in Sidewalks of St. Louis: Places, People, and Politics in an American City (1991).

In recognition of his contributions to the field of American Studies, the editors of Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present, wrote:

Professor Lipsitz is virtually a father of Americana: The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture and this journal. Although he is not associated with us in any formal sense, his seminal essay "Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies,” published in American Quarterly (1990) and reprinted in Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline (1999) made us aware of the need to form an institute and publish a journal dedicated to the art of listening to American popular culture because here we would find the "voices” that write, play, film, photograph, manufacture, tell, dance, sculpt, paint, and thus explain our American story, our American history (Spring 2002).

Professor Lipsitz received his BA from Washington University, his MA from the University of Missouri, and his doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin. He was formerly a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and is now a Professor in the Black Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to his academic work, he serves as chairman of the board of directors of the African American Policy Forum and is a member of the board of directors of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

The SEM Board of Directors is proud that such a prominent Californian scholar, speaking on popular music in Los Angeles, will be our Seeger Lecturer this year, a year in which we celebrate 50 years of the Ethnomusicology program at UCLA.

- By Gage Averill, SEM President

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