Clifton Boyd

Clifton Boyd's picture
Clifton Boyd (2016) is a Ph.D. candidate in music theory. His research lies at the intersection of identity (particularly race and gender), politics, and social justice in American popular music. Originally from West Bloomfield, MI, he holds an M.M. in music theory from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and a B.M. in viola performance and music theory from the University of Michigan. His dissertation, The Role of Vernacular Music Theory in the American Barbershop Community,“ examines how American vernacular music institutions instrumentalize music theory to influence and uphold discriminatory sociopolitical values within their communitiesDrawing upon the history of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) from its founding in 1938 to its contemporary Everyone in Harmony diversity initiativethis project argues that the BHS used music theory to delimit the musical aesthetics of the barbershop style, in order to achieve deep-rooted goals of musical and demographic “purity.” This research has been supported by the Howard Mayer Brown Fellowship from the American Musicological Society (2020), the Margery Morgan Lowens Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Society for American Music (2020), and the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2021), among othersSecondary research interests include minimalism, form in nineteenth-century chamber music, musical meter, and Italian popular music. He has presented his work at multiple national conferences, and has publications forthcoming in Music Theory and AnalysisTheory and Practice, and the Oxford Handbook for Public Music Theory.
In addition to his research pursuits, Clifton is a staunch advocate for diversity in music academia: he is the founder of Project Spectrum, a graduate student-led coalition committed to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in music academia. As chair (2017–19), he oversaw the organization of the 2018 national symposium “Diversifying Music Academia: Strengthening the Pipeline.” On behalf of Project Spectrum, he is twice a recipient of the Sphinx Organization’s MPower Artist Grant. At Yale, he led the founding of the Grant Hagan Society, a graduate student-led affinity group that supports people of color in the Department of Music. He has also worked as a Fellow in Yale’s Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity (2018–20). He has been invited to speak about his activist efforts at multiple universities and conferences, and has written about his experience of Being a Black Ph.D. Student Following George Floyd’s Murder for Inside Higher Ed (2020).
In his free time, Clifton enjoys working on his Italian and listening to comedy podcasts. For more information, please visit:
Program Type: 
Music Theory