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David Garcia has been contributing to research at Carolina for 20 years.
David Garcia
Photo by Megan Mendenhall / UNC Office of Research

David Garcia has worked for UNC-Chapel Hill in a variety of roles, most recently as a professor in the Department of Music within the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a former chair of the music department and researcher within the UNC Latina/o Studies Program and the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

What brought you to Carolina?

I came to Carolina as a fellow of the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity. After my first year holding the fellowship, I was hired as an adjunct professor for one year to teach in the music department. After that, I was hired as an assistant professor on the tenure track.

My wife and I had never visited North Carolina, or even the South, before that fellowship, so it was an exciting time to start my career in academia and help raise our family.

How has your role here changed over the years?

I have worn several hats these past 20 years, moving through the assistant, associate, and eventually full professor ranks. From 2020-2023, I served as chair of the Department of Music, and prior to that, I served as director of graduate studies. The responsibilities gained through leadership positions at the University present many opportunities to grow as an academic and administrator.

In terms of my research, I started publishing on Cuban and Latin popular music. Having always used methodologies in archival research, race theory, and historiography, I expanded my research expertise to include the Black diaspora of the Americas with a focus on the U.S. and Cuba.

I am now focused on a large research project on the 19th-century history of Latina/o/x music, dance, and culture in and around the U.S. This project broadly looks at when the borders of the U.S. crossed into and over Indigenous, Spanish, and Mexican communities and the effects of these moving borders on people’s lives — then and now.  This entails decades of Anglo-Americans crossing into Spanish and Mexican territories and culminating in the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846.

My studies also include Spanish and Latina/o/x writers, exiles, musicians, soldiers, entertainers, and others crossing by ship and on land into the eastern seaboard of the U.S. where they lived and worked in cities like Charleston, Philadelphia, and Boston. Furthermore, the circulation of popular Spanish American music and dance styles via sheet music, instructional books, and theatrical entertainment constitute yet another kind of “border crossing” — one which highlights the influences of Spanish American music and dance cultures on early U.S. Americans.

Finally, I teach in the fields of ethnomusicology, world music theory, and music studies in addition to ensemble directing. I’ve appreciated the opportunities to introduce new material into my classes and to teach new classes, the most recent being a Triple-I course titled “Performing and Imagining the American South,” which I co-taught with colleagues from the history and English departments.

What’s kept you at Carolina?

The Department of Music has transformed itself over the years to become a place where professors and students can study, produce, perform, and research so many music traditions — some even relatively new to academia like hip hop and bluegrass. I am constantly motivated by my colleagues’ music, scholarship, and dedication to teaching.

What contribution are you most proud of?

Honing my expertise in music, race, and history. In my second book, “Listening for Africa: Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music’s African Origins,” I incorporated theoretical concepts in race and gender theory, historiography, and capitalism that I had been thinking about since my first book, “Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music.”

We see the importance and necessity of having a critical understanding of these complex topics, especially race and identity given the current political environment in the country and state. I have committed my entire scholarly career to these topics because they remain at the crux of people’s lives today.

What is a uniquely Carolina experience you’ve had?

In May 2023, I attended the 24th Annual Arts Brunch organized by the New York Carolina Club. The event celebrates Carolina alumni from the 1960s to now who have contributed to art, music, and theatre.

Last year’s recipient of the John L. Haber (“Habey”) Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts was Lachi Music (class of ’05). Several speakers took to the mic, including PlayMakers Repertory Company Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch and Ackland Art Museum Director Katie Ziglar. I also spoke to the audience, sharing current exciting news from the Department of Music, and my guest was a recent music department alumnus who is now pursuing a professional music career in NYC.

Rooted recognizes long-standing members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community who have aided in the advancement of research by staying at Carolina. They are crucial to the UNC Research enterprise, experts in their fields, and loyal Tar Heels. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.

Read more Rooted stories here.

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