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Katherine Meizel

Katherine Meizel is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University. She holds a PhD in ethnomusicology and a doctorate in vocal performance, and her research includes topics in voice and identity, popular music and media, and disability studies. Her book Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol was published in 2011; she also wrote about Idol for Slate from 2007 to 2011. She is currently co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies.

“The Song Is You: Singers in the Hearing/Deaf Borderlands” 
In 2013, jazz artist Mandy Harvey sang and signed a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Ms. Harvey, who is profoundly deaf, was invited there to celebrate the anniversary of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and had traveled to the capitol as the protagonist in an American success story—as one of the young musicians supported by the Center’s self-described “arts and disability” organization. However, for d/Deaf singers who sign, like Ms. Harvey, that kind of success story isn’t simple. Following major hearing loss, they must not only learn new phenomenologies of voice, but they must also navigate a complex politics of inclusion and exclusion in hearing and Deaf cultures, and balance conflicting understandings of voice and deafness, ability and disability. To begin with, both the label of disability and the notion of voice remain fraught ideas in Deaf culture. And for hearing Americans, sonic voice is conceptually entangled with the metaphor of agentive voice, a connection crystallized in the rhetoric of the 1970s identity movements that pursued the right to speak. In contrast, Deaf philosophies of voice must confront the oppressive systems that for centuries enforced oralism and disavowed both sign languages and Deaf identities; voice in this history is not an instrument of liberation, but rather one of erasure. Thus, for d/Deaf singers, voice becomes a special locus for identity conflict. This presentation investigates the lived experiences of d/Deaf singers in what H. Dirksen Bauman has called “hearing/Deaf borderlands,” as their movements across linguistic and cultural boundaries map a unique and intricate frontier.

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