Mount Allison Music professor Dr. Elizabeth Wells has been honoured by the American Musicological Society (AMS) with the Music in American Culture Award. The accolade was announced on during the society’s 78th annual meeting, held in New Orleans.
The Music in American Culture Award recognizes the best writing on music in American culture, choosing one book of exceptional merit each year that highlights an important aspect of American music and places that music in a rich cultural context.
Wells was recognized for her book West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical, which was published in 2011 by Scarecrow Press.
“It is a tremendous honour to be recognized by my discipline with the Music in American Culture Award,” Wells says. “There are many wonderful scholars working in the field of American music, so it is particularly gratifying to be recognized in a wide and competitive pool for my work on West Side Story.”
Wells’ book is a scholarly study of the American musical classic West Side Story, exploring the ways in which it reflects American culture from a cultural, historical, and musical perspective, and looking at the complexities of Broadway in the 1950s. Through documentary sources as well as interviews with members of the original creative team — which included Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents — Wells’ also explains how West Side Story went from a work likely to be a footnote in American musicalhistory to one of the most beloved American musicals of all time.
“The Music in American Culture Award is a new award for the American Musicological Society, established in 2009 with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation,” says Anne Robertson, President of the American Musicological Society. “With this award, the AMS aims to strengthen its connection to the national environment, which is home not only to a great variety of musicians and styles, but also to a vast music-loving public who keep American music alive and flourishing.”
Wells is the first Canadian professor to win the award. Previous winners include Albin J. Zak III (I Don’t Sound Like Nobody: Remaking Music in 1950s America), Robin D. G. Kelley (Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original), and George E. Lewis (A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music). Wells is currently working on a book on British and American musical theatre in the late 1950s.
“We are very proud to see Elizabeth’s work recognized in this way,” says Dr. Karen Grant, Mount Allison’s provost and vice-president, academic and research. “It is always satisfying to receive a distinguished award such as this, but to receive that distinction from a group of your peers — all experts in your chosen field — is truly an honour.”
The American Musicological Society was founded in 1934 with the aim of advancing music research. Its membership is made up of 3,600 individuals and 1,100 institutions from more than 40 countries around the world.