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David Evans: Connecting the notes between Ethiopian and African-American music

By Laura Fenton

David Evans
David Evans

He’d travel across the world to share his love of music, and thanks to a grant, now he can.

After more than a year of preparation, Dr. David Evans will travel to Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia to enhance the music program.

Evans, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, has been awarded the Fulbright Specialist grant in U.S. Studies at Bahir Dar University where he will lecture on U.S. folk music, concentrating on African-American music and the ties it has to traditional African music.

During the six-week trip from February until March, Evans plans to “bring more of an international perspective to their study of folklore and music,” he said.

Programs at the university examine Ethiopian material, but not necessarily international influences on music.

“They do a lot of research, study and teaching about Ethiopian folklore and music, but the students need, of course, also a broad, international perspective and that’s what I hope I can promote over there,” Evans said. “In other words, expand the horizons of the project to make it more visible on the world’s scene.”

Although he will prepare lecture topics and other presentations, Evans may not know exactly what the university wishes for him to complete until he arrives in February.

Although, he does know he will work as a consultant to improve the University’s Amhara Region Culture and Development Research Center developing programs for ethnomusicology, the study of music and its relation to a region’s culture.

“The program, whether they are short-term grants like the one [Evans] is going on, or the core program grants like the ones three to 10 months, the expectation is that the person will learn some new stuff that will find it’s way back to his or her teaching, that it may lead to institutional connections,” said David Adams, assistant director of outreach and communications for Fulbright.

“It may form the basis for recruitment for students of that country to come to your institution or to lead to the development of a study abroad program for your students to go there, or possibility of collaborative research of the country to which he is going and him and potentially other of his colleagues.”

Since 1946, the Fulbright Specialist program has linked U.S. scholars and professionals with post-secondary international academic institutions in more than 155 countries.

Each year, about 2,500 people are on the specialist roster, but only 350 grants are awarded per year. A person may remain on the roster for up to five years before re-applying.

“They may or may not get called for a grant, but that’s determined by the movement abroad,” Adams said. “The driver in the program is the request from abroad.”

Evans and administration at Bahir Dar University worked together to create the program proposal, so the school chose Evans as the participant from Fulbright.

Institutions can choose a person from the Fulbright Scholar roster or create a project and ask for the names of those who fit the desired project.

Evans graduated from Harvard University and the University of California, Los Angeles and has taught at the U of M for 32 years.

He specializes in African-American history, art, music and film as well as Blues music, folklore and Memphis music, among other things.

Santosh Kumar
David Evans

Understanding the relationship between music and a culture is fascinating to Evans and if not for his curiosity of music, he would have taken a different path in life.

“You could say that [when] you are drawn to something, and you want to know as much as you can about it in addition to just pure appreciation of it, you become a scholar,” he said.

Lately, he has listened and learned about Ethiopian music and the local language, Amharic, to prepare for his trip and to craft his lectures.

Although his Fulbright program to Ethiopia has not commenced, he would like to potentially go on another scholarly trip at some point.

“There’s a possibility of doing a music tour in Venezuela that might materialize,” Evans said. “But that’s all very speculative.”

The program dictates a two-year waiting period before he can reapply to be on the scholar list again to potentially go on another trip.

Evans has prestigious honors, such as the Willard R. Sparks Eminent Faculty Award for his research of blues music and a Grammy in 2003 for "Best Album Notes" for the liner notes to “Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton.”

The Fulbright Specialist program is the short-term variety of the Fulbright Scholar Program, which sends scholars and professionals to locations for a longer duration.

It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which funds initiatives to send students, educators and athletes overseas.

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