Melvin L. Butler


Assistant Professor of Music


Ph.D., New York University, 2005


Office: Goodspeed 301
Phone: (773) 702-3499

I am an ethnomusicologist with broad interests in music and religion of the African diaspora. The bulk of my fieldwork has explored popular music making in relation to charismatic Christianity in Haitian and Jamaican communities. In these transnational Caribbean contexts, I interrogate the cultural politics of musical style and religious expression while attending to the role of musical performance in constructing individual and collective identities. Much of my research centers on the phenomenology of Pentecostal musical worship, how the transcendent becomes immanent through musical performance, and the intersections of faith, ritual, gender, and power. These interests fuel my ongoing concern with ethnographic representation and the ways in which scholars negotiate their identities in relation to various fields of supernatural encounter. I am presently at work on two book manuscripts. One of these examines the theological and experiential connections between Jamaican and African American gospel performance, along with the musical migrations that shape identities in Jamaica and its diaspora. The other focuses on a continuum of Pentecostal practice in Haiti and the discourses of cultural authenticity and spiritual power that inflect congregational practice. At the heart of both projects lies a critical reconsideration of how spiritually charged music making is deeply embedded in processes of boundary crossing, identity formation, and social positioning in post-colonial contexts.

My awards include a Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship (1999-2003) and a Fulbright IIE field research grant (2001-2002). In addition, I was the Thurgood Marshall Dissertation Fellow at Dartmouth College in 2004-2005. From 2008 to 2010, I served as secretary of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (U.S. Branch), and in 2010 I was elected to the Haitian Studies Association's Board of Directors. As a saxophonist, I spent two years (1995-1997) touring and recording with celebrated Haitian konpa group, Tabou Combo. I have also worked professionally with numerous jazz artists, including Donald Byrd, Betty Carter, Joey DeFrancesco, Christian McBride, Jimmy McGriff, and Reuben Wilson. I now perform mostly with Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, with whom I am featured on three recordings.

Recent Courses Taught

  • Music of the Caribbean
  • African American Gospel Music
  • Seminar: Music and Faith
  • Seminar: Music and Creolization
  • Seminar: Music and Trance
  • Proseminar: Ethnomusicology
  • Introduction to the Social and Cultural Study of Music
  • Introduction to World Music

Selected Works

  • Claiming Haiti: Music, Christianity, and the Performance of Transcendence (Oxford University Press, Under Contract)
  • Goodbye World: Music, Flow, and Pentecostal Identity in Jamaica (Being revised)
  • "Haitian Djaz Diplomacy and the Cultural Politics of Musical Collaboration" Music and Diplomacy from the Early Modern Era to the Present, edited by Rebekah Ahrendt, Mark Ferraguto, and Damien Mahiet, Palgrave Macmillan, Forthcoming.
  • “‘Se Pannkotis Nou Ye!’(‘We’re Pentecostal!’): Performing Pentecostal Faith in Haiti” The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities, Eds. Suzel Reily and Jonathan Dueck. New York: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming.
  • « La Musique, le Pentecôtisme, et le travail spirituel dans les Lame Selès: A la recherche de connexions diasporique.» Bulletin du Bureau National d’Ethnologie d’Haiti, Forthcoming.
  • “Singing like David Sang: Queerness and Masculinity in Black Gospel Performance,” Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, Volume 2, Ed. James Abbington. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2014.
  • "Performing Pentecostalism: Music, Identity, and the Interplay of Jamaican and African American Styles," in Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World: Rituals and Remembrances. Edited by Ifeoma Nwankwo and Mamadou Diouf. University of Michigan Press, 2010.
  • "Ethnomusicology and the African Diaspora," in African Diaspora Studies and the Disciplines. Edited by Tejumola Olaniyan, James Sweet, and Madeleine Wong. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2010.

  • "The Weapons of Our Warfare: Music, Positionality, and Transcendence Among Haitian Pentecostals" Caribbean Studies. Special Issue: Interrogating Caribbean Music: Power, Dialogue, and Transcendence. Volume 36:2, 2008, pp. 23-64.
  • "In Zora's Footsteps: Experiencing Music and Pentecostal Ritual in the African Diaspora." Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora. Volume 9:1, 2008, pp. 74-106.
  • "Dancing around Dancehall: Pentecostalism, Popular Culture, and Musical Practice in Transnational Jamaica and Haiti," in Constructing Vernacular Culture in the Trans-Caribbean. Edited by Holger Henke, Karl-Heinz Magister, and Alissa Trotz. Pp. 63-99. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008.
  • "Thoughts on the Intersection of Race and Faith in the Study of Popular Music," Journal of Popular Music Studies 19 (1) (April 2007): 113-117.
  • Review of Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism. Michael Largey. 2006. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 75(1), March 2007.
  • Review of Lining Out the Word: Dr. Watts Hymn Singing in the Music of Black Americans, William T. Dargan. 2006. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; Singing in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age, Jerma A. Jackson. 2004. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; "'Let the Church Sing!': Music and Worship in a Black Mississippi Community. Therese Smith. 2004. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press; The Holy Profane: Religion in Black Popular Music. Teresa L. Reed. 2002. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press. Ethnomusicology Vol. 51(3), Fall 2007.
  • "'Nou Kwe nan Sentespri'/ 'We Believe in the Holy Spirit': Music, Ecstasy, and Identity in Haitian Pentecostal Worship," Black Music Research Journal 22(1) (Spring 2002): 85-125.
  • "Musical Style and Experience in a Brooklyn Pentecostal Church: An 'Insider's' Perspective," Current Musicology 70 (2000): 33-50.

Selected Recordings

  • Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Landmarks, 2014
  • Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band (Verve), Season of Changes, 2008
  • Brian Blade Fellowship (Capitol/Blue Note), Perceptual, 2000
  • Brian Blade Fellowship (Capitol/Blue Note), Brian Blade Fellowship, 1998
  • Magali Souriau (Koch Jazz), Birdland Sessions, 2000

  • Stephane Mercier (Fresh Sound New Talent), Flor de Luna, 2001
  • Reuben Wilson (Jazzateria), Organ Blues, 2002
  • Reuben Wilson, (Cannonball), Down With It, 1998
  • Reuben Wilson (Jazzateria), Organ Donor, 1997
  • Eric Essix, (Zebra-WarnerElektraAtlantic), Southbound, 2000
  • Eric Essix, (Zebra-WarnerElekraAltantic), Small Talk, 1998
  • Tabou Combo (Antilles Mizik), Sans Limites, 2000
  • Tabou Combo (Hibiscus), Why Not?, 1997
  • Tabou Combo (Hibiscus), 360 Degrees, 1997
  • Michael Blaise (Hibiscus), L’Aise Comme Blaise, 2000
  • Beth Sheba (Antilles Mizik), An Chans Ou An Destiné, 1998
  • Mary Souza (Harmony Records), Manso E Suave, 1998
  • Skah Shah (Geronimo), El Cuban’n, 1997
  • Ralph Conde (Antilles Mizik), Ralph Conde and Friends, 1997