Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, an Africanist/African-Americanist scholar and cultural activist. Her research focus is on intersections between African/African American identities and traditional Black musics, as well as ethnomusicological approaches to culturally responsive music education for Afro-descendant students.
Her forthcoming book chapter, entitled “The Hush Harbor as Sanctuary: African American Survival Silence During British/American Slavery,” will be featured in a collection called Sonic Histories of Occupation: Sound and Imperialism in Global Context, edited by Russel Skelchy and Jeremy Taylor, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021. Another book chapter, “Singing Power/Sounding Identity: The Black Woman's Voice from Hush Harbors and Beyond” will be featured in The Routledge Companion to Black Women’s Cultural Histories, edited by Janell Hobson, also to be published in 2021.
Cunningham is completing a PhD at the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in African American studies with a concentration in ethnomusicology. Cunningham received an MA in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park, a MA in jazz performance from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and a Bachelor of Music in jazz studies from Howard University.
In 2017 she received a Fulbright fellowship to research how traditional music is used to teach national identity to primary school students in Botswana. Cunningham is also a two-time award recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar fellowship to study African American Gullah culture, as well as African American culture and blues traditions in the Mississippi Delta. In 2016 she received a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship and a Fund for Teachers fellowship to research traditional music in Ghana and India. She has presented her research and writing at conferences nationally and internationally at the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Association for the Study of African American Life and Culture (ASALH), the National Council for Black Studies (NCBS), the University of Nottingham, the University of Albany and New York University.
In 2017, Cunningham launched Ethnomusicology In Action, a project of Themba Arts and Culture, Inc., that uses educational programs, curriculum development, professional development for teachers, music recordings and broadcast media to advance heritage education about Afro descendant expressive cultures, music, and other arts. From 2018 to 2020 Cunningham through Ethnomusicology In Action presented a radio show on WOWD 94.3 FM called Music In Culture: Sounds of the Black Experience, that uses the approach of ethnomusicology to explore the many genres of Black music from all over the world: from African American jazz and blues to Afro Brazilian Samba Schools and South African protest anthems.
Cunningham has worked as a music, culture, and applied ethnomusicology consultant with Smithsonian Folkways Records, on the Song Advisory Board of Music Together, LLC., and with several school districts. She is Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the Jazz Special Interest Group, and Secretary of the African/African Diasporic Music Section of the Society of Ethnomusicology. Cunningham also has eighteen years of experience in music education and directing community-based arts programs. She has traveled all over the world conducting research and learning traditional music.