Dr. Beckley-Roberts, associate professor of ethnomusicology, has been named the permanent chair of the Department of Music in the College of Liberal Arts at Jackson State University. Beckley-Roberts was appointed interim on Oct. 1, 2017.
“I’m thrilled and excited about this opportunity to serve our students and continue to work in this capacity with our faculty and administration,” she said. “I’m so grateful to the search committee, our faculty, Dr. Candis Pizzetta, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Dr. Mario Azevedo, the former dean, as well as the university’s administration for having the confidence and faith in my ability to continue doing this. Moreover, I am committed to the success of our students, department and university.”
The Holly Springs, Mississippi, native shared that she often thinks about the department’s legacy, including the “groundbreaking” work of Dr. Dollye Robinson, whom Beckley-Roberts called a “powerhouse woman chair” turned dean. She also credited Dr. Jimmie James, Jr., who additionally served as department chair and, most notably, the voice of the Sonic Boom of the South.
“I am just so honored to walk in their footsteps and build upon their work. This accomplishment means that I have the opportunity to serve my community, students, and colleagues in a new way while honoring the culture of excellence that was established by F.D. Hall and all of the chairs that have served before me,” she said.
As interim, Beckley-Roberts started a theory tutoring lab for students, oversaw building and recital hall renovations, and pushed to have the music building’s gallery reestablished in conjunction with JSU galleries. She also began the JSU African drum and dance ensemble, where she is the director. Earlier this year, the music professor received an excellence in diversity and inclusion award from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.When it comes to the future, the chairwoman issued a reminder that the department is home to the Sonic Boom of the South, and “while we continue to nurture the summa cum laude of bands, I’m excited about sharing the ‘so much more’ that we offer.”
The Boom’s sound results from the band program, Beckley-Roberts said, pointing out the three concert bands and symphonic wind orchestra.
“We are home to one of the oldest collegiate orchestras in the state of Mississippi, and so I envision a time when young classical artists know that if you want to seriously study orchestral repertoire and attend an HBCU that JSU is the place to be,” she said. “We have a renowned vocal area with leading performers and scholars who are internationally recognized, so I’m excited to support that area’s growth.”
Founded by “living legend” Dr. Russell Thomas, the jazz studies program thrives with some of the most talented young voices and instrumentalists she has ever heard said the chairwoman.
“I am excited about the work that we have done through grants and alumni support to revitalize and move our music technology program into the forefront, so I’ll be very excited to announce future collaborations and work that we do in that area,” said Beckley-Roberts, who added that JSU is the only HBCU with an African music and dance program within the music department, combined with the four jazz ensembles and steel pan ensemble, which is essential in the further development of a world music program.
Beckley-Roberts shared that her central vision is to ensure the department is the go-to resource for all areas mentioned above and music education, composition, theory, performance and scholarship.
“The means by which we achieve the vision is multi-step but has already begun with the development of student support resources such as tutoring labs and student leadership and professional organizations, obtaining grants to support our work, the development of the performing arts series, an alumni network, and relationships with top-tier music schools and organizations which support our mission,” she said.
Some of the many projects Beckley-Roberts is looking forward to developing partnerships with string and orchestral programs throughout the U.S., improving retention and graduation rates through student success support, establishing a certificate in world music, and creating a faculty mentorship program for new faculty.
An alum of Florida State University, Beckley-Roberts earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology and master’s degrees in ethnomusicology and harp performance. She received a Bachelor of Arts in harp performance from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A long-time music fan, Beckley-Roberts explained that music says so much about “who we are, who we think we are, or who we want people to think we are.” She further described it as an essential cultural enactment of identity assertion.
“We live in our music. Absolutely every society has music, and in ours, like others, it is for entertainment, but it also serves so many other purposes. In general, the arts are how we learn, teach, and practice critical thinking, empathy, and expression.”Beckley-Roberts said she often tells her students that while STEM classes will tell them how to build the bomb, music classes help them understand the implications of using it and hopefully the humanity to understand alternative ways of getting results.
“If we look at the current news and pay attention to all that is going on around us, we can better understand how and why music is at the forefront of every cultural shift. There is a reason our ancestors used music to call the divine, that we still do today, and that music is the vehicle in which empowerment rides,” she said.
Beckley-Roberts has taught courses including minority music in America, American roots music, American popular music, world music cultures, Western music history, intro to ethnomusicology, women in medieval music, artists of African descent in renaissance Europe, and African music and dance in addition to guest lecturing and presenting papers on Africana religious practices and the role of music in them, Peruvian shaman ritual chanting, and the creation of sacred space through music.
She is also an accomplished performer who has been principal harpist with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and the Central Florida Symphony Orchestra, has performed with orchestras throughout the Southeast, and maintains an active performance career, having accompanied singers with the neo-soul and hip-hop performers of Tallahassee Nights Live.
Beckley-Roberts currently serves as a member of the Africana Studies Department exploratory committee, is co-advisor for the Jackson State University chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota, and has served on numerous faculty search committees and colleges and departmental committees. She is also active in several professional and service organizations, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, The Society for Ethnomusicology, The American Harp Society, and American Musicological Society, while regularly volunteering in the Jackson area through her work as a mentor for girls at Hardy Middle School.