Teaching and Making Music in the ‘Colored Waiting Room’

That others would find the title of Guthrie Ramsey Jr.’s latest CD both intriguing and repulsive doesn’t bother him.

Ramsey, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music at Penn, is a musician, historian and thought provocateur. His latest CD project is called “The Colored Waiting Room.”

He says the project is “a remembrance and a recovery” of the Jim Crow era custom of segregating African-Americans in “colored” waiting rooms before they travelled by bus or rail.

“The waiting room represented a space of containment. Yet on the flip side, it was also a place where one was free to be one’s self, where they could express things beyond the scrutiny of a broader, suspicious, though voraciously consuming public,” Ramsey says.

A former elementary and high school music teacher, Ramsey earned a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of Michigan and taught at Tufts before joining the music faculty at Penn in 1998.

Ramsey, author of the 2003 “Race Music: Black Cultures From Be-Bop to Hip Hop,” performs his brand of “musiqology” playing piano, composing and arranging a mix of contemporary jazz, R&B and other genres with his ensemble, Dr. Guy’s Musiqology.

Many of Ramsey’s current and former students worked behind the scenes on film shorts as interns and performers to promote “The Colored Waiting Room” project on various social media platforms.

“They also researched studio spaces, mastering houses and liner notes,” Ramsey says.

“Everyone and everything, you see, was present inside the colored waiting room, especially in its music,” he says. “Music is, indeed, a space where people can join together in creative, communal exchange and transformation—where musicians create sounds that embody their own musical voices and aspirations and forge them with others.”

In the coming weeks, Ramsey plans to release a series of film vignettes about the project and on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. To learn more, visit www.Musiqology.com.

Text by Jacquie Posey
Video by Guthrie Ramsey