“Musicians in America during the Covid-19 Pandemic” is a documentary project organized by the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), with support from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington. Thanks to an NEH CARES Act grant, the Society hired three ethnomusicologists (Dr. Holly Hobbs, Dr. Raquel Paraíso, and Dr. Tamar Sella) to conduct online video interviews with a cross-section of American musicians between August and November 2020. The interviews focused on the impact of the pandemic on the musicians’ artistry, careers, and communities, while also addressing alternative modes of music-making in outdoor spaces and in virtual concerts via the Internet.

The resulting collection of 240 videos features musicians from all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia and 5 U.S. territories) and a wide range of music genres, such as Native American traditions, jazz, blues, gospel, country, zydeco, norteño, mariachi, salsa, rock, hip hop, klezmer, and Western classical, as well as traditions from such countries as Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Ireland, Poland, Spain, Ghana, Ethiopia, Turkey, Iraq, India, Indonesia, China, and Japan.

Each video is accompanied by background notes on the musician. In addition, the researchers co-authored an interpretative essay that highlights several themes in the interviews: the musicians’ reexamination of the significance of music in their lives and communities, their loss of employment, illness and death of community members, and new directions in the creation and presentation of music.

SEM thanks the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding support and the Indiana University Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities and Indiana University Libraries for technical assistance.

Project Researchers: Holly Hobbs, Raquel Paraíso, Tamar Sella (see bios below)
Project Advisor: Tomie Hahn, SEM Interim President and President-Elect
SEM Editorial Assistant and Project Website Designer: Adriane Pontecorvo
SEM Program Specialist: Stephanie Sturgis
Project Director: Stephen Stuempfle, SEM Executive Director

Homepage photos: Alonzo Townsend (St. Louis, Missouri); Lyla June (Albuquerque, New Mexico); Lu Fuki and Tazeen Ayub (Detroit, Michigan); Trina Basu (New York City, New York); Angelica Garcia (Richmond, Virginia); Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains (Lawrence, Kansas); Hong Wang (Las Vegas, Nevada).

Project Researcher Bios:

Dr. Holly Hobbs earned her M.A. degree in Ethnomusicology from Indiana University’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, followed by her Ph.D. from Tulane University in New Orleans in 2015. During her time at Tulane, she founded the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive, a digital archive of rap and bounce music and oral history housed at the Amistad Research Center, the nation’s oldest and largest independent archive of African American history. Hobbs has worked as a music and arts consultant in a number of capacities over the years, including extensive oral history interviewing work, consulting for various cultural development programs, documentary films, and archival work for the public radio program American Routes. Additionally, she has worked as a contract fieldworker for the State of Louisiana, and her writing on music and culture has appeared in numerous publications, including Music Rising, the KNOWLA Encyclopedia of Music and Culture, Smithsonian Folkways, Southern Spaces, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Uproxx, and more. She works as a Corporate Development Specialist for NPR affiliate station WWNO in New Orleans.

Dr. Raquel Paraíso is an independent researcher, musician, and educator. She earned a B.A. in violin performance from the Conservatory of Music in Salamanca, Spain, and holds a master’s degree in Violin Performance, a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, and a doctorate in Ethnomusicology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her areas of interest focus on cultural politics of music and music production of place, identity, and ethnicity in Latin American music at large and Mexican music in particular. Her current research in traditional music from the Mexican Huasteca region examines issues of rituality, symbolism, and embodiment in contemporary gendered, globalized, and transnational scenarios. Her research and field recordings have been published by Oxford University Press, Cambridge Scholars, and Penguin Random House, as well as El Colegio de Michoacán, the National Institute of Anthropology (INAH), and Revista de Literaturas Populares (UNAM). She has presented her work at numerous national and international academic conferences for both academic audiences and the general public. In her podcast series Músicos tradicionales de México/Traditional musicians from México (on Spotify and her personal YouTube channel), Paraíso explores new ways to talk and write about music and musicians. Versatile as a musician and scholar, she is actively involved with the practice and performance of Latin American music through her ensemble, Sotavento.

Dr. Tamar Sella is a scholar interested in the relationship between performance, diaspora, ancestral memories, and liberation. As a product of both Israel and the U.S., she is committed to calling on Jewish diaspora and ancestors in dismantling the settler colonial and racial logics of both states, separately and in relation to one another. In 2020, she received a Ph.D. in music from Harvard University, where she also served as Visiting Fellow in 2020-2021, and in 2011 she received a B.A. in music from University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation, “Resonant Ancestors: Arab Jewish Memory on the Israeli Stage,” explores the negotiations of diasporic memories in contemporary performance by Mizrahi Jews (Jews from the Middle East and North Africa) in Israel/Palestine toward imagining alternative futures. As an organizer, writer, and sometimes performer, Sella also has a secondary area in American music, where she explores vocal aesthetics in jazz and improvised music in relation to gender and race formations. Her writing appears in publications including Women and Music (2020), the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women (2021), the Journal of the Society for American Music (2018), and the Ethnomusicology Review’s Sounding Board (2015), as well as nonacademic outlets including Downbeat magazine.