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Welcome (back), Professor Eileen Southern

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. Professor Southern is wearing a white short-sleeved blouse smiles at the camera. Her body is turned away.

Portrait of Professor Eileen Southern. Lilian Kemp. August 4, 1986. Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-2.

On your next visit to the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, take the stone steps to the second and third floors. In the stairwell, you’ll be greeted by three striking portraits of Eileen Southern (1920-2002), a professor in Harvard University’s Department of Music and Department of Afro-American Studies from 1974 to 1986. Professor Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans: A History, now in its third edition and most recently reprinted in 2022, essentially created a new academic subfield — Black music studies.

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. She is sitting at a conference table. Her book The Music of Black Americans rests in front of her. She is wearing a sleeveless dress and a printed blouse. Professor Southern is smiling.

Portrait of Eileen Southern. Martha Stewart. [197-?] Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-1. Image ID 4120734.

These portraits were discovered in a HOLLIS Images search for “Eileen Southern.” HOLLIS Images brings together image content from archives, museums, libraries and other collections across Harvard. High-quality images are readily available to view and download.

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. Professor Southern is smiling and laughing. She is standing in front of a chalkboard. Professor Southern is wearing a two-piece suit.

Professor Eileen Southern Standing in Front of a Chalk Board. Photographer unknown. [1976?] Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-4. Image ID 29864970.

Professor Southern’s childhood in Minnesota, her studies at the University of Chicago and New York University, her years of teaching at HBCUs, and her deep and innovative study of early European music and African American music are described on Eileen Southern and The Music of Black Americans, a digital exhibition created by Harvard students, faculty and staff.

Three black-and-white framed photographs are mounted on a wall. They depict Professor Eileen Southern, a faculty member at Harvard University. Professor Southern was a Black woman.

Three portraits of Professor Eileen Southern line a stairwell of the Loeb Music Library.

Contributed by Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger. Christina Linklater was co-director of the Eileen Southern Initiative.

Harvard Honors Jessye Norman

For this post we would like to celebrate honors received by Jessye Norman, who passed away in September 2019, starting with the honorary doctorate she received from Harvard in June, 1988. This was one of many honorary doctorates she received during her lifetime. At this time in Harvard-Radcliffe history, Radcliffe College was still awarding degrees to female students, as it was the female coordinate institution for the all-male Harvard College. Although an agreement was signed to combine admissions offices in 1977, a full absorption of Radcliffe College into Harvard University did not happen until 1999.

This photograph of Jessye Norman was taken during the convocation events.

Jessye Norman looking at the camera during convocation

Standing in the center of the following photograph is Oscar Arias Sánchez, President of Costa Rica, the recipient of the other honorary doctorate given that year.

Eight people psing for picture, including Jessye Norman

In 1997, Norman received the Radcliffe Medal, given annually to individuals whose lives and work have had a transformative impact on society. It was given to Norman at the Radcliffe Annual Alumnae Association Luncheon. An audiocassette of the luncheon is available by appointment only in the Schlesinger Library. Also bestowed the honor was musician Lena Horne, a recipient in 1987.  

Harvard wasn’t finished giving Norman awards. In 2016, she was awarded the W.E.B Dubois Medal honoring those who have made significant contributions to African and African American History and Culture. The award was presented at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University, available on YouTube. As part of the ceremony, Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music at Harvard, read a passage about the power and necessity of music, from W.E.B. Du Bois “The Sorrow Songs” from his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk. Lana MC Lyte’ Moorer, an acclaimed female hip-hop musician, was also presented the award in the same year for her contribution to music.

These photos, along with photos of the luncheon, are held at the Radcliffe College Archives at the Schlesinger Library and are available upon request. Photographs used with permission from the Schlesinger Library.

Radcliffe Medal Recipients

Harvard Honorary Degree Recipients

W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Recipients

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