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African American Arts Institute

Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010

Scholar, performer and composer Keyes to receive the Herman C. Hudson Alumni Award

April 19, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's African American Arts Institute is honoring Cheryl L. Keyes, an alumna who has gone on to become an accomplished ethnomusicologist, composer, arranger, vocalist, musician and record label founder.

Keyes will receive the institute's Herman C. Hudson Alumni Award at its annual banquet on Tuesday (April 20). Each year, a distinguished alumnus or institute affiliate is honored with its achievement award. The event is not open to the public.

Previous winners have included the opera vocalists Janet Williams and Angela Brown, music legend Isaiah Sanders, Broadway performer Justin Johnson and the late dancer Gabriel Paige.

The award is named for Hudson, founder of the Office of Afro-American Affairs, the Minority Achievers Program (now the Hudson-Holland Scholars Program) at IU Bloomington and the Department of Afro-American Studies (today the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies). Hudson believed the institute should strive for the highest levels of excellence in performance, and throughout its 35-year history, the institute has nurtured and developed the talents of students of diverse backgrounds who come to IU with varying artistic interests and experience.

Keyes, a native of southern Louisiana, was influenced at an early age by the region's rich musical heritage and attended Xavier University in New Orleans on a music scholarship. While in the "Crescent City," she performed with jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste, trumpeter Clark Terry and legendary R&B singer Eddie Bo.

After graduation, she came to IU Bloomington to explore her other musical passions. As a graduate student in the Jacobs School of Music, she studied piano with Shigeo Neriki, flute with Harry Houdeshel and voice with Camilla Williams. She also served as a teaching assistant and music coach for the AAAI's acclaimed IU Soul Revue.

Upon receiving her master's in music education in 1982 from the Jacobs School, Keyes pursued a doctorate at IU in ethnomusicology and studied under scholars Portia Maultsby and William Wiggins. Her dissertation, "Rappin to the Beat: Rap Music as Street Culture among African Americans" stands among the first works published that exclusively examines rap music as a continuum of African American expressive culture, thus opening the doors for serious study of hip-hop culture in the academy.

After leaving IU in 1991, Keyes taught briefly at Western Kentucky University before leaving to conduct extensive fieldwork on rap and hip-hop culture in Mali, West Africa, New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles and London.

In 1992, she received a Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship to continue her studies on hip-hop music in New York City, where she joined the faculty of New York University. Two years later, she joined the faculty of the Department of Ethnomusicology at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she today is an associate professor.

Keyes is the author of Rap Music and Street Consciousness, which received a CHOICE award for outstanding academic books in 2004, and numerous journal articles. She currently is researching the musical life of the legendary New Orleans piano player, Henry "Professor Longhair" Byrd and working on a documentary about contemporary female jazz instrumentalists in Los Angeles.

She was the first woman and the first African American to serve as U.S. chapter president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music in 2007-2009. She also has served on the board of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

In the midst of all of her teaching, research duties and service, Keyes has continued to pursue her musical passion. In 2005 she performed as a vocalist, pianist, flutist and a composer-arranger in the Instrumental Women Project's Lady Jazz concert series held at the Ford Amphitheatre. The following year, she performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival and was invited to serve as musical-artistic director for the Lady Jazz: Blues in the Summertime concert at the Ford Amphitheatre.

In 2008, she launched her own record label, Keycan Records, which also houses her music publishing company, Cangom, an ASCAP-affiliate company, founded by Keyes in 2002. Last year, her debut CD, Let Me Take You There, won an award for "Outstanding World Music Album" at the 40th NAACP Image Awards.

She and her husband, Abdoulaye N'Gom, have twin sons, Idrissa and Issa.