It has been a challenging time for our nation coping with a coronavirus pandemic, economic hardships, police brutality, and racial inequalities. Marva Griffin Carter, Associate Professor of Music History, Popular and World Music, has long been a part of Georgia State University’s changes involving racial inclusion as the only female African American professor on the School of Music’s faculty. She began as Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, then briefly Graduate Director, while maintaining faculty status for more than 27 years.
The Society American Music (SAM) recently acknowledged Dr. Carter’s significant service and scholarly achievements for which they gave her their prestigious 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. SAM’s president, Tammy Kernodle, asserted that: “Her generous spirit and insightful advice to younger scholars have changed our Society forever and for the better.”
Dr. Nick Demos, Director of the School of Music, added, “I can think of no one more deserving than Dr. Marva Carter to receive the prestigious Society for American Music 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Carter has demonstrated excellence both as a scholar and as a teacher and has served the School of Music with distinction during her career at GSU. Over the years, faculty and students have greatly benefited from her wisdom, expertise, and dedication. Dr. Carter is a generous, kind, and deeply respected member of the School of Music family. It is very gratifying that the Society of American Music has recognized her immeasurable gifts and significant contributions to the field. We warmly congratulate Dr. Carter on this outstanding achievement and look forward to her many future accomplishments.”
Marva Carter’s academic journey began in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination when doors opened in majority colleges and universities to a more significant number of African American students, teachers, and administrators, along with demands for African American Studies.
Carter worked administratively and taught in academia since 1969 – as an Administrative Assistant to the Afro-American Studies Graduate Program at Boston University; as Coordinator of the African-American Studies Program and Instructor in Music at Simmons College; as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana; Adjunct Professor at Clark Atlanta University; and Music Department Chair and Associate Professor at Morris Brown College.
When she arrived at Georgia State in 1993, music appreciation courses focused solely on European musical traditions. American popular music and jazz were not included, nor was World Music, or any perspectives comparing the European musical culture with that of non-European cultures.
“Each morning, I passed the state flag with its design based on the Confederate flag bravely flying over the golden capitol dome. Students in my classes wore similar paraphernalia on their belt buckles and had never studied with a professor of my hue. Classes consisted of lectures with a few African American students. I discovered that to be more active, I had to come to terms with the pervasive white supremacist consciousness and be forgiving of it. My role was to inform and transform attitudes regarding race and racism in my course content and reveal my teaching style and personal life what I wanted to be brought out, not what I wanted to be cast out,” said Dr. Carter.
In more recent years, her classes have become broader in scope, including music-cultures of diverse areas. Students led to be more self-directed learners, both inside and outside the classroom.
When asked how it feels to earn the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Carter replied, “I am a better scholar because of the decades of personal and professional association with members of The Society for American Music. This organization has been dear to my heart, soul, and mind, almost since its inception in 1975. It has provided a close bond of scholars with whom I have exchanged intellectual ideas, personal struggles, and collaborative publications.”
Carter has rendered many years of dedicated service on The Society’s board of directors, editorial journal and critical editions boards, The Irving Lowens Award for Best Book, cultural diversity, honors and awards, program and membership committees, as well as its mentoring initiatives.
Oxford University Press published Marva Carter’s biography “Swing Along: The Life of Will Marion Cook” and her writing on “The ‘New Negro’ Choral Legacy of Hall Johnson” is included in Karen Ahlquist’s Chorus and Community. Carter is currently writing a book for the University of Illinois Press. It examines the historical musical traditions and repertoire within the liturgical context of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where she formerly served as organist for a decade.