Dena Epstein Award for Archival and Library Research in American Music

Dena EpsteinThe Dena Epstein Award for Archival and Library Research in American Music was created through a generous endowment from Morton and Dena Epstein to the Music Library Association in 1995. Grants are awarded to support research in archives or libraries internationally on any aspect of American music. There are no restrictions as to an applicant's age, nationality, profession, or institutional affiliation. All proposals are reviewed entirely on the basis of merit. The decision by the Dena Epstein Award Committee and the Board of Directors of the Music Library Association is announced at the MLA annual meeting. Calls for applications are issued in the spring.

Dena Epstein (1916-2013) had a lifetime interest in the history of American music publishing and in pre-Civil War African-American music in the United States and West Indies. She was the author of many publications, the best known being Sinful Tunes and Spirituals (University of Illinois Press, 1977) and Music Publishing in Chicago Before 1871 (Information Coordinators, 1969). Her articles have appeared in Notes, Musical Quarterly, Ethnomusicology, and American Music. The most recent include "Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family's Claim to the Confederate Anthem" (1994), "Frederick Stock and American Music" (1992), "Black Spirituals: Their Emergence into Public Knowledge" (1990), and "The Mysterious WPA Music Periodicals Index" (1989). She received numerous awards, including two National Endowment for the Humanities grants, the Chicago Folklore Prize, and the Francis Butler Simkins Prize from the Southern Historical Association. She was perhaps the most proud of I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl (University of Illinois Press, 1989). Edited by Dena, this book is the autobiography of Hilda Satt Polacheck, her mother.

Until her retirement, Dena Epstein was Assistant Music Librarian at the University of Chicago for some 22 years. Active throughout her career in the Music Library Association, Dena served on the Board of Directors as member-at-large and as MLA President from 1977 to 1979. She also chaired and was a member of many committees. In 1986, Dena Epstein was awarded MLA's highest honor, the MLA Citation, and became an honorary member of the Association.


The deadline for receipt of proposals and letters of support is August 31, 2020.

Application details here


Learn more about Dena J. Epstein:

Dena J. Epstein Papers, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

2018 recipients:

Sheryl Kaskowitz – “Government Song Women: How the Special Skills Division Discovered American Folk Music” for research to result in a book on the lost story of folk-music collecting and musical activities of the Resettlement Administration’s Special Skills Division during the New Deal and the role that women played in it.

Kendra Preston Leonard – “Melody Magazine and Women Musicians in the Early American Cinema” to examine the full print run of the early twentieth-century Melody [Magazine] for Photoplay Organists and Pianists and all Music Lovers, held at the Library of Congress for a book-length study of women in early film music and an online, open access database of the magazine’s contents.


Past recipients and projects

2017 no award given  

Louise Toppin (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

For "Bibliography of the Concert Works by Composers of the African Diaspora," research to result in an extensive fully annotated published bibliography of vocal music by composers of the African Diaspora accompanied by an online database.

Jessica Stearns (University of North Texas)
For "Christian Wolff's Notation and its Context," research which explores the innovative, social, and improvisatory nature of experimental notation in the context of the New York School – comprising John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and Wolfe – New York's cultural environment in the mid-twentieth century.
2015 Gabriel Alfieri (Boston University)

To explore how four major composers--Virgil Thompson, Paul Bowles, Marc Blitzstein, and Leonard Bernstein--worked with various playwrights and directors to compose incidental music for their spoken theater productions

Daniel Margolies (Virginia Wesleyan College)
For research on non-mariachi styles of Mexican-American fiddling in south Texas in the twentieth century
2014  Alice Miller Cotter (Princeton University) For research on John Adams' operas in Adams' private archive at his home in Berkeley, CA, and other California collections
2014  Devora Geller (City University of New York)  "Paradise's Flower: Joseph Rumshinsky and Yiddish Theater Music in New York, 1900-1950.
2013 Alecia Barbour (Stony Brook University)
"Music and Remembrance: Listening to U.S. 'Internment' Camps, 1939-1947"
2012 Mark Burford (Reed College)
For research on Mahalia Jackson
2011 Nancy Yunhwa Rao (Rutgers University)
"Spectacular Sound across Borders: Chinese Opera Theaters in Chinatowns and Beyond"
2010 Ursula Crosslin (Ohio State University)
"The Institutionalization of Sacred Vocal Music in Cincinnati, 1810-1860"
2009 Maria Cristina Fava (Eastman School of Music)
"Marc Blitzstein and the Political Value of Music: New York City in the 1930s"

Lara Housez (Eastman School of Music)
"Becoming Sondheim: From Forum to Company"
2008 Nikos Pappas (University of Kentucky)
"Sacred Music Tune Index of Trans-Appalachian and Southern Antebellum Source Material (1760-1870)”

Steven Robert Swayne (Dartmouth College)
For research on a biography of William Schuman
2007 Sarah Dorsey (University of North Carolina, Greensboro) For research on a biography of Louise Talma

R. Allen Lott (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) For a critical edition of nineteenth-century American hymnody
2006 David Hursh (East Carolina University) For research on a biography and digital exhibit about North Carolinian Alice Person

Robin Rausch (Library of Congress) For research on a biography of Marian MacDowell
2005 Melissa J. de Graaf (Brandeis University) "The New York City Composers’ Forum, 1935-1940: A Missing Link in American Music”
2004 Kati Agocs For a critical edition of Leopold Damrosch’s Symphony in A major (1878)

Jane Ellsworth
For research on the history of the clarinet in early America from its appearance in the late 1750s to 1820

Catherine Smith
For research on a biography of William Grant Still
2003 Ayden Adler (Eastman School of Music) "'Classical Music for People who Hate Classical Music'”: the Influence of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra on the Culture of Classical Music in America”

Ryan Jones (Brandeis University)
"Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land”
2002 Clemens Gresser (University of Southampton, England) "The New York School in Performance—the Need for further Instructions”

Robert Haskins (Eastman School of Music) "'An Anarchic Society of Sounds': the Number Pieces of John Cage”
2001 Elizabeth Bergman Crist "Progressivism and Populism: Aaron Copland’s Music and Aesthetics during Depression and War”

Ruth A. Inman "Research on and study of the Martin and Morris Music Company Records, 1930-1985”

Roberta Lindsey For Copland research
2000 Jo Burgess (Indiana University) For research on southern Illinois folk music

Karen Rege (Delaware College of Art and Design) For research on Arthur Farwell and his relationship to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century
1999 Sally Bick (Yale University) "Film Music and Its Critical Assessment in American Art Music Circles of the 1930s and 40s”

Svetlana Sigida (Moscow Conservatory)
For a study of American art music and culture in the first half of the twentieth century and the influence of Marxist ideology on American composers
1998 Edward L. Widmer In support of work on a book about the white suppression of African drumming in colonial America and its ramifications into the twentieth century
1997 Nancy Newman For study of the repertory and the historical and cultural influences of the Germania Musical Society in the United States

Nancy Toff For research on a biography of the French-American flutist Georges Barrère (1876-1944)
1996 Norm Cohen In support of work to compile a checklist of pocket songsters published in the United States between 1860 and 1899



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The Music Library Association is the professional association for music libraries and librarianship in the United States. Founded in 1931, it has an international membership of librarians, musicians, scholars, educators, and members of the book and music trades. Complementing the Association’s national and international activities are eleven regional chapters that carry out its programs on the local level.