Acclaimed USC Professor Josh Kun awarded Berlin Prize

USC Annenberg Professor Josh Kun has been named a recipient of the Berlin Prize, a semester-long fellowship in Berlin awarded annually to top-tier scholars, writers, composers and artists from the United States.

Kun’s class of 22 recipients, announced by the American Academy in Berlin on May 10, represents “the highest standards of excellence in their fields,” The Academy said. The award grants Kun a stipend, partial board and accommodations while working in Berlin for the 2018 spring semester.

“Josh Kun’s exceptional scholarship has once again received the attention it deserves — this time, with the coveted Berlin Prize,” said Provost Michael Quick. “We know that he will use his time in Germany to produce unique work that will educate all of us. He has chosen a fascinating topic — the effects of immigration on music — which will resonate around the world. We congratulate Professor Kun and look forward to the results of his work.”

Kun’s work centers on the politics of cultural connection, using music as a way to understand society, culture, social change, place-making and community building. He’s best known for his public projects that rethink the historical perspective of Los Angeles, Southern California and the US-Mexico border. Songs in the Key of LA, an example of a recent work, uncovered LA Public Library’s archived sheet music and brought it to life through performances, new recordings and new writings. His next collaboration, with Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, is a series of public events that delves into the Latin-American music and the shaping of LA.

“I am thrilled about this new opportunity,” Kun said of the Berlin Prize. "I look forward to seeing how my work on music and migration, which has been mostly focused on the U.S. Southwest, changes shape and scope in the European context, especially during this crucial global moment of refugee and migrant crisis."

Kun, who was granted a Macarthur Foundation “genius grant” fellowship in September 2016, leads the Norman Lear Center’s Popular Music Project. He holds a joint appointment in the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ Department of American Studies and Ethnicity.

“The announcement of this prestigious award reinforces the value Professor Kun’s work brings to the international community, and there is no more relevant subject to tackle today than immigration,” USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. “Josh pushes the limits of conventional scholarship by revealing unexplored connections between music and culture, and this exciting new opportunity will unearth answers to questions we hadn’t even thought to ask.”

According to the American Academy in Berlin, Kun’s fellowship will focus on what he calls “the migrant sound.” From the U.S.- Mexico borderlands to contemporary Europe, he will explore the impact of displacement, relocation, deportation and immigration on the aesthetics, communication networks, and the industries and markets of contemporary global practices. He aims to examine the impact of a billion migrants on the way music is made — and how immigration to Berlin is shaping the city’s cultures of music.

Sarah Banet-Weiser, professor and director of the USC Annenberg School of Communication, said: “Through this fellowship, Professor Kun will both continue and expand his brilliant work on the intersections of borders, migrants, immigrants and pop culture — especially music.

“During a historical moment in global culture, when the issues of crossing borders, migrants, politics and culture have never been more urgent, this project is critical and essential and Josh is the one to do it.”

Academy president Michael P. Steinberg called the newly announced cohort “a particularly stunning class of fellows.”

“This group of scholars and artists will work with their peers and partner institutions in Berlin on projects that combine issues of ardent contemporary interest with the deep capacities of scholarship and the creative imagination,” Steinberg said. “Their work will be of lasting value and, on the way, spark exciting conversations and connections between the US and Germany.”

Fellows are encouraged to work with local “individuals and institutions in the Academy’s well-established network, forging rich connections and lasting transatlantic relationships,” the Academy said. They also engage audiences in lectures, performances and readings throughout Berlin and Germany.

The Academy described the work fellows will be undertaking in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 as an array of projects and topics that include the effects of immigration on the social life of the United States, novels, the history of black musicians in Germany and Austria, a comparison of current European and American policing operations, sectarianism in the modern Middle East, and historical crises in the humanities. 

Gretchen Parker McCartney is Director of Media Relations for USC Annenberg. Prior to joining USC in 2010, she was a reporter for Us Weekly and a writer for The Associated Press and newspapers in Florida and Texas. Her work has appeared in publications all over the world; most recently, she was a...