Melvin L. Butler


Assistant Professor of Music


Ph.D., New York University, 2005


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

Melvin L. Butler is an ethnomusicologist with broad interests in music and religion of the African diaspora. Much of his work centers on the cultural politics of musical style and on the creative strategies through which spiritually charged music making is embedded in processes of social boundary crossing in the Caribbean. These interests fuel his concern with ethnographic representation and the ways in which scholars negotiate their identities within fields of supernatural encounter. He is presently completing two book manuscripts. Claiming Haiti: Music, Christianity, and the Politics of Transcendence (under contract, Oxford University Press) focuses on a continuum of Protestant Christian practice in Haiti and the discourses of cultural authenticity, nationalism, and divine favor that inflect congregational worship. Goodbye World: Music, Flow, and Pentecostal Identity in Jamaica (under review) examines the musical and theological connections between Jamaican and African American forms of ritual practice. 

Butler was awarded a fellowship at Yale's Institute of Sacred Music in 2012-13, where he also served as a visiting assistant professor. His other awards include a dissertation fellowship at Dartmouth College (2004-05), a Fulbright IIE field research grant (2002), and a Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship (1999). From 2008 to 2010, he was secretary of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (U.S. Branch), and from 2010 to 2013 he served a three-year term as an elected member of the Haitian Studies Association's Board of Directors. 

As a saxophonist, he received a 2014 Grammy nomination (Best Jazz Instrumental Album) for his work on Landmarks (Blue Note) with Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band. He is featured with this celebrated ensemble on three additional recordings, Brian Blade Fellowship (Blue Note, 1998), Perceptual (Blue Note, 2000), and Season of Changes (Verve, 2008). Since the 1990s, he has worked with numerous jazz artists, including Donald Byrd, Betty Carter, Joey DeFrancesco, Eric Essix, Christian McBride, Jimmy McGriff, and Reuben Wilson. He has also toured internationally with renowned Haitian konpa group, Tabou Combo.

Recent Courses Taught

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


  • Claiming Haiti: Music, Christianity, and the Politics of Transcendence (Oxford University Press, Under Contract)
  • Goodbye World: Music, Flow, and Pentecostal Identity in Jamaica (Under Review)

Selected Articles

  • “Performing Pannkotis Identity in Haiti” The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities, Eds. Suzel Reily and Jonathan Dueck. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • "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, 2014.
  • “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.
  • "'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