Who the Smithsonian asks for Help…

By Morgan Mendenhall

As a little girl, Tammy Kernodle, was surrounded by music her whole life. Flowingly through house was her grandmother playing the piano. She started playing piano when she was three years old.

“Music was everything to me, growing up, I was happy being isolated with my records in my room listening.” she laughs.

The burned out motherboards of her numerous IPods can attest that she didn’t leave that love behind and isn’t planning to anytime soon.

She has continued her passion and turned it into a career. Kernodle is a professor of musicology here at Miami University in the department of music, tucked away in the Performing Arts building behind the Shriver Center.

Her brick walled office is full of books, an electric piano and Hello Kitty merchandise sprinkled throughout.

She sits in front her computer in a light green blouse, short curly black hair and warm smile.

It’s a long way from Washington, D.C., which came calling for her help recently.

Kernodle is such a leading mind within her subject, the Smithsonian called on to  assist in curating the music section in the National Museum of African American History & Culture. The museum opened in September of 2016.

Coming out of graduate school from Ohio State University with her with her master’s and doctorate degrees, Kernodle was uniquely able to teach both classical european music and African American music. The latter of which she taught herself.

While at Ohio State, “there were no classes offered in Black music, so what I did was took what I learned from my other classes and applied it to Black music.” she says as she adjust her tortoise shell glasses.

Kernodle started to amass her own library, buying books on black music, recordings,  taking courses in Black World Studies, Women’s Studies and American History in addition to her music courses.

There she learned the theoretical concepts of music, the intersectionality of feminism, gender and race in a way she could apply to music.   

“There was no curriculum, I made my own.” She says.

She took a one year visiting professor job at Miami after graduation, halfway through she was asked to stay.

“What I had here was an opportunity that nobody would have given me, I had people saying create your own program.” she says.

She has now been at Miami for 20 years.

All the classes on African American music here at Miami were developed bkernodlebwy Kernodle.

Her most popular class is history of hip hop. It was one of the first in the nation when it was created in 2000.

“She is really a force of nature,” says Eve Weeber, her graduate assistant who is in her second year of graduate school at Miami. She also calls her a great mentor.

“She is one of the best educators I’ve ever come across.”

Joele Newman, a junior in Kernodle’s MUS 285: Introduction to African American music class says the same about her professor.

“She’s one of the highest scholars for African American music.”

Growing up in Danville, VA she would go to the Smithsonian as a child if she or her brothers got good grades. To be called to curate exhibits there was like a dream for Kernodle.

“I loved the Smithsonian from the first time I went, this was my life coming full circle.”  she says.

She happily relives the moment she first heard that she had been selected.

“I really thought one of my friends was playing with me, I get this phone call one day and this person says ‘I’m calling from the Smithsonian’ so I just hung up.” she recalls, still in disbelief.

Once they called back, she knew that it was real.

“I dropped my phone, I broke my phone that day. It’s the Smithsonian, of course I said yes.” she exclaims.

The project took her four years.

This was when her own personal library came in handy. She scoured through the different books to pull bits of information to put on the plagues that sit but the exhibits today.

“They would send me things in spurts and tell me that I had two weeks.” she continued to teach while she compiled the numerous exhibits.

“It’s still quite surreal, I’m not sure how to talk about it sometimes. The morning I saw it I was amazed.” She admits.

As a Nina Simone fan, she say her favorite exhibit to work on was Simone’s. She remembers staring at the recital card that had been donated to the museum. It has her real name on it, Eunice Kathleen Waymon.

“It’s like nothing else.”

Leaning back in her chair, she looks up while she thinks.

“I wanted to be a teacher but I never thought I could be a teacher like this.” says Kernodle reflecting on her achievements.

“That is an absolute dream.”

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