“Music is important because it says so much about our culture and us. It expresses who we are, who we think we are and who we want people to think we are. If I can help students gain some insight into the meaning and purpose of people’s music, then I can help them to understand something about people’s culture and maybe about themselves.”
Dr. Lisa Beckley-Roberts, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Chair of the Department of Music at Jackson State University, earned her doctorate in Ethnomusicology and Masters Degrees in Ethnomusicology and Harp Performance at Florida State University, after having received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Harp Performance from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Beckley-Roberts has taught courses including Minority Music in America, American Roots Music, American Popular Music, World Music Cultures, Western Music History, and African Music and Dance in addition to guest lecturing and presenting papers on Africana religious practices and the role of music in them, Peruvian shaman ritual chanting, and the creation of sacred space through music. She is also an accomplished performer who has been principal harpist with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and the Central Florida Symphony Orchestra. She has performed classically with orchestras throughout the Southeast, and was active in contemporary music having accompanied singers with the neo-soul and hip-hop performers of Tallahassee Nights Live between 2013-2015.
Dr. Beckley-Roberts currently teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in Music History, Studies in Historical Musicology/Ethnomusicology, Music Appreciation, Applied Harp Lessons, World Music Cultures, African music and dance, and Seminars in music history, and ethnomusicology. She began the Jackson State University African Drum and Dance Ensemble shortly after arriving at JSU and held the Inaugural performance of the ensemble on November 30, 2016. She has authored articles and film/album reviews that have appeared in the Journal for the Society for Ethnomusicology, Journal of Africana Studies, and Worlds of Music Journal and has presented at numerous professional conferences including African Studies Association Conference, Caribbean Studies Association Conference, African and Diasporic Religious Studies Association Conference, and Regional Society for Ethnomusicology Conference.
Having been a Fulbright-Hayes Scholar in South Africa as well as a FLAS scholar in Nigeria, Beckley-Roberts’ research focuses on traditional African religious practices in diaspora communities of the Americas and the role of music, dance and chant in conversion processes. However, she has also done research on exoticism in the Romantic era, the performance of gender in Western art music, and the musician’s role in contemporary resistance movements in America and the Caribbean.
A fierce advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Dr. Beckley-Roberts has advocated for those schools to be the center of research on the music of the Black Diaspora. Furthermore, she urges HBCUs to place equitable value upon the “classical” musics such as Jazz, Blues, Spirituals and Gospel. She serves as a board member for the HBCU-Jazz Education Initiative which offers support for music programs to provide degrees and programming in Jazz Studies. She is also a founding member of Diversity Inclusion and Equity in Music and Arts (DIEMA) consulting group affording her the opportunity to help equip music, dance, and art programs with tools in creating a more diverse and equitable learning environment.