Returning to Harvard as a professor years after studying here is not uncommon. But Assistant Professor of Music Charrise Barron’s “full circle” moment may be a first: a computer science graduate returning as a gospel music expert.
Barron grew up playing piano in church on Sundays. But while music always had an important place in her life, it was CS50, a computer science course with a tough reputation, that sparked her first professional path. After a brief career in systems analysis, she pivoted to pursue a call to Christian ministry. It was then that she discovered ethnomusicology and returned to her original passion — music.
An ethnomusicologist, clergyperson, and scholar of African American religious and cultural history, she joined the Music Department as an assistant professor in 2022 and will begin teaching this fall after a year of research leave. It’s a true homecoming for the former Leverett House resident, as she also completed a master’s degree and her Ph.D. here.
“It feels amazing to be back,” Barron said. “Joining the music faculty and offering courses that explore African American music and the intersections of music and religion and culture — it’s really an exciting time.”
Barron sat down with the Gazette to discuss her research, fall and spring courses, and the advantages of conducting scholarly work as “an insider.” The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GAZETTE: Can you tell me about your fall course, “Black Protest Music,” and the courses you’ll be teaching this spring?
BARRON: This course is surveying Black protest music, and I’m broadly defining that term. I’m including music from the Negro spirituals, all the way up to the music of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we study Black protest music history, we’re able to get a glimpse of Black American history, which really is American history. I’m looking forward to hearing how students are processing the music that they’re hearing today and helping them relate the music to this long history of struggle for racial equality and social justice.