April 10, 3:30–5:00 pm: Dwandalyn R. Reece (National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Music and the Meaning of Things

Among the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s twelve permanent exhibitions stands Musical Crossroads, an overview of over 400 years of African American music-making from the time when the first enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas to the present. Through the exhibition’s 345 objects visitors have encountered stories that explore the creation, dissemination, and reception of a rich tapestry of musical creativity.  

The ways we engage with music is constantly evolving. Over the last three decades, countless number of museums, historic sites, libraries, and archives have built music collections for research, exhibition, and programming. As a universal mode of expression and creativity, music is the great equalizer in the human experience. From performance and scholarship, to the latest technological innovations, the multiple worlds that music inhabits is a culture unto itself. Within this movement to document, preserve, and interpret music’s existence, is a growing interest in music’s material culture, the tangible objects that are the material evidence of its existence.

In this lecture, Dr. Dwandalyn Reece will discuss her methodology of interpreting the history of African American music through the lens of its material culture.   Conceptualized around the idea that objects  deepen our understanding  of music’s meaning in a social, historical, and cultural context,  Reece will demonstrate how this approach opens up new possibilities in interpreting the meaning of music in African American life.


Dwandalyn R. Reece is Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Supervisor Museum Curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She brings more than 30 years of knowledge and experience in the museum field, including more than ten years at NMAAHC as Curator of Music and Performing Arts. In that role she built a collection of over 4,000 objects, curated the museum’s inaugural permanent exhibition, Musical Crossroads, for which she received the Secretary’s Research Prize in 2017, curated the museum’s grand opening music festival, Freedom Sounds, served as executive committee chair of  the pan-institutional group Smithsonian Music, and co-curated the Smithsonian Year of Music initiative in 2019. Prior to her tenure with NMAAHC, Dwan worked as a Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities. She ​also has worked previously as the Assistant Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Chief Curator at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Curator at the Motown Museum in Detroit.