Center AffiliationThe Norman Lear Center
Professor Kun's research focuses on the arts and politics of cultural connection, with an emphasis on popular music, the cultures of globalization, the US-Mexico border, and Jewish-American musical history.
He is director of The Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg's The Norman Lear Center and co-editor of the book series "Refiguring American Music" for Duke University Press. He founded the USC Annenberg Distinguished Lecture Series on Latin American Arts & Culture, which he now runs in collaboration with the USC Latino Alumni Association.
Prior to joining the USC Annenberg School, Kun was Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. He holds a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley. A former Arts Writers Fellow with The Sundance Institute and a former fellow of the Ucross Foundation and The Mesa Refuge, he is the author of Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (UC Press), which won a 2006 American Book Award. He is co-author of And You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past As Told By The Records We've Loved and Lost (Crown, 2008), editor of The Song is Not The Same: Jews and American Popular Music (Purdue UP), co-editor of Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies (John Hopkins), and wrote the introduction to the re-publication of Papa, Play For Me (Wesleyan University Press), the autobiography of musical comedian Mickey Katz.
His articles have appeared in numerous scholarly journals, anthologies, and exhibition catalogues, covering everything from the music of the Mexican border and the lost histories of Jewish mambo and Jewish jazz, to African-American and Latina/o musical exchange in Los Angeles. He has written the liner notes to CDs by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Sammy Davis Jr., and Maldita Vecindad.
In 2012, he curated "Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-75," a landmark exhibition at The Grammy Museum that was part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative. His audio installation "Latin-Esque" was included in the 2011 exhibition MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism(s) in Los Angeles 1930-1985, and his audio-visual installation "Last Exit USA" was commissioned by Steve Turner Contemporary and later appeared at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. With design historian and TASCHEN editor Jim Heimann, he co-curated The Donkey Show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. He co-organized the USC/LACMA/LAUSD project The Corrido of L.A. and curated a 2011 collaboration with Grand Performances on the history of The Phillips Music Company in Boyle Heights. With USC Annenberg students, he is currently collaborating with The Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library on "Songs in the Key of L.A.," a multimedia exploration of Los Angeles through its vintage sheet music.
In 2005, he co-founded The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, a non-profit organization dedicated to excavating lost treasures of Jewish-American music. The Society re-issues classic albums and the stories behind them; manages a digital based archive of the music and the artists who created it in order to preserve their legacy for future generations; curates museum exhibits like Jews on Vinyl and Black Sabbath that showcase the stories behind the music, and organize concerts which bring the 80 and 90 year old performers back on stage before a young audience at venues like Lincoln Center in New York, Skirball in Los Angeles and Yoshi’s in San Francisco.
As a critic and journalist, Kun has contributed to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Los Angeles Magazine, LA Weekly, and other publications. From 1998-2006, he wrote "Frequencies," a bi-weekly music column published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Boston Phoenix. His writing has also appeared in Tu Ciudad Los Angeles, Cabinet, The Believer, Guilt & Pleasure, Village Voice, SPIN, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and in Mexico's La Jornada and Proceso. On the radio, has been a frequent commentator for National Public Radio, BBC, KPCC, and WNYC.
His journalism on the US-Mexico border earned him a 2007 Unity Award in Media and made him a finalist for a 2007 Southern California Journalism Award.
In 2005, Kun was a regular critic on The Movie Show With John Ridley on American Movie Classics, and he has also appeared as a culture critic on ABC, The Disney Channel, National Geographic TV, UPN, Fox Latin America, BBC Radio, and National Public Radio. From 1999-2000, he hosted The Red Zone, Southern California's first commercial Latin Rock radio program, on 107.1 FM and in 2002 was the show's host on MTV-español. From 2003-2005, he hosted and associate produced Rokamole, a weekly Latin alternative music video show on KJLA-LATV.
He serves on the board of Dublab and on the editorial boards of American Quarterly, The International Journal of Communication, Boom: A Journal of California, and The Journal of Popular Music Studies. He has also worked as a consultant and curator with Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Autry National Center, and the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
Colloquia and Guest Lectures
At The Edge of Urban Identity (with Ozomatli, TEDxSF)
Music as Social Action (TEDxUSC)
2013 Songs in the Key of L.A.: Sheet Music and the Making of California. Angel City Press.
2013 Black and Brown Los Angeles: A Contemporary Reader. Editor with Laura Pulido. UC Press.
2012 Tijuana Dreaming: Art and Life at the Global Border. Editor with Fiamma Montezemolo. Duke University Press.
2012 Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies. Editor with Kara Keeling. John Hopkins UP.
2011 The Song Is Not The Same: Jews and American Popular Music. The Jewish Role in American Life Vol. 7. Annual Volume of The USC Casden Institute. Editor. Purdue University Press.
2008 And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past As Told by The Records We Have Loved and Lost. Co-authored with Roger Bennett. Random House, 2008.
2005 Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Winner of the 2006 American Book Award. UC Press 2005.
2012 "So Many Bones in the Desert." Interview with Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez. Los Angeles Review of Books.
2012 "A Nightstick Turned Into a Song." On Music and Black Power. The American Prospect.
2012 "Death Rattle." On Music, Violence, and the US-Mexico Drug War. The American Prospect.
2011 "Sing, Memory." On Music and Memory. The American Prospect.
2011 "Latin-Esque: The (Mexican) Musical Modernism of L.A., 1950-1966." Mex/LA: “Mexican” Modedernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985. ed. Hatje Cantz, Museum of Latin American Art.
2011 "The Personal Equator: Patssi Valdez at the Border." Asco: Elite of the Obscure: A Retrospective, 1972-1987. ed. Hatje Cantz, Museum of Latin American Art.
2011 "KWXY AM 1340, Cathedral City." Sights and Sounds. Boom: A Journal of California.
2011 "Playing the Fence, Listening to the Line: Sound, Sound Art, and Acoustic Politics at the US-Mexico Border.” Performance in the Borderlands: A Critical Anthology. eds. Harvey Young and Ramon Rivera-Servera. Palgrave.
2011 “The Tijuana Sound: Blues, Brass, and the Musical Borders of the 1960s.” Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Ed. Alejandro Madrid. Oxford University Press.
2011 "California Sueños." Boom: A Journal of California Studies. Issue 1, Volume 1. UC Press.
2011 "The Sound of ’68: Notes on The Musical Legacy of Tlateloco." Kalfou. Special journal issue, "1968." University of Minnesota Press.
2010 "Black Sabbath." Liner notes essay. Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical HIstory of Black-Jewish Relations. Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation.
2010 "Unexpected Harmony: YouTube Helps Legaci's Breakout." The New York Times. June 15, 2010.
2010 "El Disco Es Cultura." The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl. Ed. Trevor Schoonmaker. Duke University Press,
2010 "Tijuana and the Borders of Race." The Blackwell Companion to Los Angeles. Eds. William Deverell and Greg Hise. Blackwell.
2009 “Have An Hors D’ Ouevrey Irvy: The Music of Jewish-American Food.” Koscher & Co. Exhibition Catalog. Judisches Museum Berlin.
2009 "The Sound of the Desert Sublime." Convergence: Special Issue on "The Sonic West." Ed. Stephen Aron. Autry National Center.
2009 "Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos." Liner notes essay. Juan Calle and HIs Lantzmen, Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos. Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation.
2009 "Mexican Bands Find Success Via Cell Phones." The New York Times. April 3, 2009.
2008 A Line in the Sand: The Contemporary US-Mexico Border and Its Future. Los Angeles Times. February 17, 2008.
2008 "Immigrant Sage: How a 70-year-old curmudgeon, played by a 28-year-old, became one of the most popular personalities on L.A. radio." Los Angeles Magazine. December 2008.
2007. "Abie the Fishman: On Masks, Birthmarks, and Hunchbacks. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.
2007 "How We Listen: A Conversation Between Josh Kun and Leon Botstein." Guilt & Pleasure, 6.
2007 "Interview with Jorge Hernández of Los Tigres del Norte." Bomb: A quarterly arts & culture magazine.
2007 "The Latte-ization of Tijuana." Los Angeles Times, August 6 2007.
2007 "The Ballad of Music Man Murray." Los Angeles Magazine, July 2007.
2007. "Mexico City's Indie Rock, Now Playing to the World." New York Times. May 13, 2007.
2006 "The New Sound of Mexico, Sung in a Nashville Accent." New York Times. December 17, 2006.
2006. "We Are a Band, and We Play One on TV." New York Times. July 9, 2006.
2006 "The Twiins: Mexican Music, Made in America." New York Times. May 14, 2006.
2006 "They're With the Band, Speaking That Global Lanage: Brass." New York Times. April 9 2006.
2006 "The Island of Jorge Hank Rhon." LA Weekly. February 16, 2006.
2005 "Bagels, Bongos, and Yiddishe Mambos, or The Other History of Jews in America." Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 23(4).
2004 "File Under: Post-Mexico."Aztlan, 29(1).
2002 "Two Turntables and a Social Movement: Writing Hip-Hop at Century's End." American Literary History, 14(3)
2002 “'The Sun Never Sets on MTV: Tijuana NO! and the Border of Music Video." Latino/a Popular Culture. eds. M. Romero & M. Habell-Pallan. NYU Press.
2001 "The Aural Border." Theatre Journal, 52.
2010 Black Sabbath: The Music of Blacks and Jews. Co-curator. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
2009 Jews on Vinyl. Co-curator. Contemporary Jewish Museum (S.F.) & Skirball Cultural Center (L.A.)
2009 Last Exit USA. Solo installation. Steve Turner Contemporary. Los Angeles, CA.