New “American Music” Editor: Nancy Yunhwa Rao

American Music welcomes incoming editor Nancy Yunhwa Rao. Dr. Rao is Distinguished Professor of Music at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Her research spans gender and music, sketch studies, music modernism, cultural fusion in music, racial representations, and the music history of early Chinese Americans.

This work includes many publications that have appeared in American Music:



As editor, she seeks submissions that employ interdisciplinary and innovative methodologies in the study of music in the Americas, especially when addressing underrepresented topics, perspectives, and areas of studies. See the American Music submission guidelines for a list of potential themes and topics of interest.  

Her first issue, Volume 41, Issue 1, is available now on Project Muse and the Scholarly Publishing Collective. As you can see, it also features an exciting new cover design! 

Interested in learning more about the journal’s new editor? Read on for our Q&A with Nancy Yunhwa Rao: 

Q1: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background? What inspired you to take on the editor role? 

A: I have a BA degree in vocal performance from Taiwan, ROC, and a PhD in music theory from the University of Michigan. After completing a dissertation on post-tonal analysis of the string quartets by Arnold Schoenberg, Milton Babbitt and Ruth Crawford, as well as a song cycle by Elliott Carter, I spent a year in the Bay area. There I was drawn to studying two unpublished treatises by ultra-modernists, one co-authored by Charles Seeger and Crawford, and the other by Henry Cowell, written during his imprisonment in San Quentin. It was unusual for theorists then to bring analysis to bear on historical questions about partnership or prison writing. But this research was pivotal for my career in two ways. First, I found the historical context, including gender issues, extremely important to the understanding of core musical concepts and theories of the ultra-modernist composers. Through close musical analysis, one gains insights on the connections of ideas among a network of composers and even jazz performers, and on the genealogy of modern music in 20th century. Second, from the historical documents I found that the musicking of Chinese Americans, in particular Chinese opera theater, had an indelible impact on American modern composers, which led me to the much forgotten history of vibrant Chinatown theaters in the 1920s. After many years of intense research, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America was published in 2017. My colleagues in the field of American music had been the most prominent interlocutor during this long process, and, in some ways, they were my imaginary readers. It was heartwarming that the book won four prizes, including the book award from Society for American Music and the Music in American Culture award from American Musicological Society.   

The accolades that this book received were a collective win for scholars of Asian American music. We celebrated and were all thrilled by the recognitions. Chapters are being taught, and some scholars take on further research. But still it felt that changes are slow. At universities, researchers and courses on the subject of race in America often exclude Asian Americans as a topic of study. As the sociologist Jennifer Lee notes, “When we make the choice—and it is a choice—not to include Asian Americans in our research, we must ask ourselves what are we missing?”  

Then, the bleak reality of anti-Asian hate crime during the pandemic makes it clear that the rampant anti-Asian racism is linked to the U.S. cultural imagination. Anti-Asian hate is a reflection of the historical invisibility of Asian Americans themselves, as well as the transpacific history of America, in the U.S. cultural imagination. In higher educations, this historical racial invisibilization is perpetuated in textbooks and course offerings, as well as in scholarly music journals, including American Music. Changes are urgently needed. As a starter, we need to subscribe to the transpacific history of American music as American music studies’ own subject matter.?Therefore, when the University of Illinois .Press invited me to take on the editorship for American Music, the choice is obvious. I feel it is an obligation to take opportunity to facilitate changes.  

Q2: What are your goals as editor of American Music?  

A: Though trained as a music theorist, I have been an Americanist through and through. It is very befitting, given my varied research areas and interdisciplinary approaches, since as a field of study, American music is never confined to particular doctrine or methodology. It crosses many disciplines, and always engages in multifaceted analysis and understanding of American music issue. In particular, I would like the journal to reach in a substantial way to understudied areas, such as the transpacific history of American music, music of indigenous community, Caribbean music, etc.  

Q3: American Music covers a broad spectrum of topics related to music. Could you share with us the types of articles, reviews, and special issues that readers can expect to find in the journal? Are there any particular areas you’re looking to expand in future issues? 

A: We hope to enhance the inclusion of genres and performance traditions across the Americas. We would like to expand the scope, which includes the relationship between music and social change, transnational studies, the transpacific history of American music, pedagogies of American music, the relationship between music and other art forms in the Americas, as well as the concepts and methodologies that contribute to the theoretical understanding of American music. 

We are introducing a new format: printed symposiums on books. We select books that have a significant impact and invite contributors to write thought-pieces or reflections connected to, or in dialogue with, the important issues addressed by these books. This format resembles an extended seminar discussion. We believe that the contributors will bring new dimensions and perspectives that will further the field. 

We are particularly excited about our first issue, which includes a symposium on Asian American jazz. This symposium features six authors, two of whom are performers. Additionally, we have received extremely enthusiastic responses to our call for papers for a special issue on Caribbean music, to the extent that we might further divide them into two special issues. Furthermore, we are in the process of working on several other special issues and colloquies. 

Q4: What message or advice would you give to authors and researchers who may be interested in submitting their work to American Music? 

A: We are interested in learning what you deem relevant, and even crucial, to the process of generating knowledge about the music of the Americas. We highly appreciate a diverse range of approaches and perspectives, spanning from archival and historical to fieldwork and contemporary methodologies, and from conceptual frameworks to empirical studies. This includes conducting close analysis/reading, exploring meta-narratives, and incorporating insights from both scholarly research and performing experiences. We encourage authors to reach out to us or arrange meetings with our editorial team if you would like to suggest special issues.

Todd Decker, Outgoing Editor 

Join us in thanking outgoing editor Todd Decker for his contributions to American Music! Dr. Decker earned his Ph.D. in historical musicology at the University of Michigan and is currently the Paul Tietjens Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. He has served as the editor of American Music since 2019 and worked on 12 issues.  

In celebration of his time as editor, we asked Todd Decker to reflect on his experience: 

Q1: What were some highlights of your time as editor of American Music? Were there any particular themes or topics that you personally enjoyed exploring and featuring in the journal during your time as editor? 

A: Working with young academics publishing for the first time or during a crucial period in their career was always rewarding. The chance to place an article in a respected journal like American Music can mean a lot to these folks. It might help them get a job or earn tenure, and in the latter case there can be some urgency about getting a strong submission through to publication in a timely manner.  

It was also a pleasure give extra space to musical figures and topics that are historically underrepresented in the journal or scholarship generally. In a few cases, we invited authors to write beyond our usual word limit of about 11,000. Of course, we could do this for every such article and never get close to matching the huge body of scholarship on white male composers.  

Q2: As the editor of American Music, what challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them to maintain the high standard and reputation of the journal? 

A: The six months after the global COVID shutdown in March 2020 was a difficult stretch. I don’t think we received a single submission during this time. We had several special issues in the works, but individual scholars were just not sending in new articles. I’m not sure why this was so, but perhaps academics working together on a shared project were more able to get things done during a time of crisis while things were a bit tougher for individuals (perhaps because of lack of access to archives).  

The idea for the fortieth anniversary special issue came out of these months as well. We could tell that the whole world of scholarship was at an inflection point, so the idea of giving a lot of scholars a chance to speak their mind on any topic in a kind of “op ed” format seemed right. [See below for more information on the special issue.

Further contributions to American Music include his book review of “Stormy Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen” and an article he co-authored for the special issue celebrating 40 years of American Music: “The 701 Articles of American Music: A Quantitative Study of Forty Years of Scholarship.” 

Q3: What were your key takeaways on the content of American Music from your analysis of the published articles? 

A: The journal has a ways to go in representing diverse voices—among authors and the musicians they study—but the trend is definitely in the right direction.  

I was also struck by the shift towards more recent musics. We discovered that in the 1990s, almost half the articles in the journal were about twentieth century music from before World War II. In the 2000s, music from after World War II claimed about half the articles. Then in the 2010s, music of the twenty-first century was the topic of nearly one-third of the articles, even though the century was still so young. Any lingering prohibitions on doing scholarly work on musics of the recent past is clearly gone—at least for Americanists. 

Q4: Do you have any upcoming projects after American Music you’d like to discuss? 

A: I’m writing a history of the Broadway musical from 1900 to the present through the prism of the Broadway theatres and Broadway performers. It’s a digital humanities project built on two databases: a comprehensive list of every musical to play midtown Manhattan between 1900 and the March 2020 shutdown (2881 productions, to be exact) and an analysis of about 2000 individual performers’ careers. Like most of my work on the musical, race is central to the story, with a focus in this instance on racial casting practices in the musical and how racial and ethnic identity has played out in the careers of individual performers, both famous stars and unknown members of the ensemble.  

Special Issue Recognizing 40 Years of American Music 

Published in celebration of the journal’s fortieth anniversary, this special issue of American Music presents articles on the current and future state of scholarship in the field. The editors open the pages to scholars from all career stages and even reach outside the academy to add to the diversity of identities and perspectives long associated with the American Music community. 

The articles begin with a quantitative analysis that draws on digital humanities methods to examine all 701 articles from the journal’s history, alongside a long-view examination of the scholarship published in American Music on Latinx and Latin American music and musicians. A roster of distinguished contributors follows with work that highlights the journal’s ongoing dedication to publish on the entire vast and ever-expanding landscape of American music. Topics range from tools like podcasts and collaboration to anti-Asian racism in music and bringing inclusion to classical music radio, and from women’s work in music and race in music scholarship to the use of music in movement and the accordion-Bajo Sexto played on the US-Mexico border. 

This issue is available now on Project Muse and the Scholarly Publishing Collective

Find Out More 

American Music is an independent, peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the University of Illinois Press. Its articles, reviews, and special issues are devoted to American music in the broadest sense, including musical practices of North, South, and Central America as well as American musics performed anywhere in the world. 

  • Individual subscriptions can be made through the University of Illinois Press website. 
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About Kristina Stonehill