Telling the Story of African American Music – KC STUDIO

Dina Bennett, director of collections and curatorial affairs at the American Jazz Museum (photo by Jim Barcus)

Originally from Topeka, Dina Bennett became director of collections and curatorial affairs at the American Jazz Museum in 2018, bringing a distinguished record to the position. She came here from Nashville, where she was founding director of curatorial work at the National Museum of African American Music, after serving as associate director of operations and programs at the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, director of education at the BB King Museum. and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, and Manager of Collections and Exhibits at the American Jazz Museum. Bennett holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Washburn University, a master’s degree in student personnel from the University of Kansas, and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology with a minor in African American and African Diaspora Studies from Indiana University. An accomplished pianist, she spent many of her early years as a music minister in her Baptist church.

HS: What professional experiences have most influenced your curatorial practice?

comics: My work experience at the BB King Museum and the Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi has profoundly influenced and impacted my life and work. Being able to live and experience the Mississippi Delta, where much of African-American history is rooted, gives you a rich grounding in African-American culture and the heritage of African-American music beginning with the blues and all the other musical genres that come from it. .

HS: What did your tenure as founding curator director of the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville entail?

comics: The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) opened on MLK Day in January 2021. It is the nation’s premier institution dedicated to the study, preservation, education, and the celebration of more than 50 musical genres and subgenres created, influenced and inspired. by African Americans. While there, I oversaw the museum’s curatorial department and was the principal curator of the permanent exhibit titled, “Rivers of Rhythm: African Americans and the Making of American Music.” As a founding director curator, I was able to develop and expand my knowledge and skills to design and build a museum from scratch. I feel honored to have taken on this responsibility and created something monumental for the masses to enjoy and benefit from.

HS: How did your upbringing in the black church and your training as a pianist/organist influence your choice of career?

comics: My background influenced and influenced my career choice, but it was not until later in my life that I decided to pursue a PhD. in ethnomusicology. I studied ethnomusicology and African American and African Diaspora studies because I wanted to know more about people, why they created music, and I wanted to weave stories around artifacts and preserve material culture . And I wanted to do all of this in the context of the museum.

I grew up in a musical family with a dad who played in an R&B band with his brother. While his brother was the leader of the band, dad was the bassist, harmonica player and lead vocalist. So he had a profound influence on my musical pedigree. And later in life, when I became a music minister in my Baptist church, I accompanied dad as he sang gospel music as well as youth and adult choirs.

When I was 7, I attended the Melody Brown Fun Factory, a local musical arts camp formerly held on the campus of Washburn University. They saw in me musical abilities and they offered to give me piano lessons for free. I took piano lessons until I graduated from high school and participated in marching bands and concert bands as a clarinetist.

HS: What does your position as Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the American Jazz Museum entail?

comics: I am responsible for overseeing the Department of Collections and Curatorial Affairs, which consists of myself, Registrar Morgan Smith and Exhibitions Coordinator Chloe Willett. This position oversees the museum’s institutional archives and all loans and exhibitions, as well as the management of the permanent collection with respect to special exhibitions, research, use, curation and preservation of interpretive and educational programs. ‘education.

I am currently working with our team on the planning and design of our 25th anniversary exhibit for September 2022. We are excited to feature artifacts from our collection that have never been seen before in this exhibit. We are also in discussion about what our next 25 years at the museum will look like and hope to revisit our exhibit and interactive offerings in the very near future.

HS: In these difficult times, how can visiting the collections of institutions like the American Jazz Museum or the National Museum of African American Music help us maintain our sense of humanity?

comics: The collections of these institutions reveal that we all have the capacity to love music and be affected by it in special ways. Music serves as the soundtrack to our lives, and we all share this commonality.

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