Dissertation Title and Summary

The Songs of Her Possibilities: Black Women-Authored Musicals from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

In the seventy-four year history of the Tony Awards, the most prestigious awards for theatrical productions on Broadway, only thirty-seven Black women have won. Thirty-three of those awards were for acting and performance, while the remaining three were for their work as producers. Broadway and musical theatre have been intimately entangled in the popular and academic lexicon, as it is typical to refer to Broadway as a stand-in for musical theatre itself. “The Great White Way,” as Broadway is often called, eerily reflects more than just its blinding white lights; it also signals the Indigenous genocide that allows its very ontology as well as its nearly 200-year history of exclusion of Indigenous people and people of color. Further, Broadway is not the only place in which significant musical theatre production has occurred and a strict focus in musical theatre scholarship on this geography of exclusion obscures the contributions made to the shaping of this popular theatrical genre, particularly by Black women.

My dissertation project examines the historical contributions that Black women have made to the genre of musical theatre. In essence, I explore Black women as performers, librettists, playwrights, and composers on and for the musical stage. For too long, Black women in musical theatre have either been ignored or simply relegated to the role of performer, presenting an overdetermination of their bodily and aural performances. I join the work of scholars such as Daphne Brooks and Jayna Brown to understand the twentieth-century contributions of Black women to shaping American musical theatre in order to both recuperate their work as well as critically engage it. I argue that Black women employed the trappings of musical theatre to mobilize their visions of the world and innovated aesthetics and forms that continue today.


Jordan Ealey is a doctoral student in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and is also pursuing Graduate Certificates in Critical Theory and Digital Studies in the Arts and Humanities. She earned aMaster of Arts in Theatre and Performance Studies at UMD, a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and English at Wesleyan College.

Jordan’s dissertation focuses on Black-women authored musicals from the nineteenth century to the present. Her areas of research and interest are in Black theatre and performance, Black feminist theories and praxis, Black girlhood studies, musical theatre, popular music, digital humanities, and dramaturgy. Her research has also published in The Black Scholar, Theatre Journal, and is forthcoming in Studies in Musical Theatre and Frontiers: Augmented.


Jordan’s research has been supported by UMD’s African American History, Culture, and Digital Humanities and Humanities Without Walls. As a publicly engaged scholar, Jordan is the co-host and co-producer of Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast on Black theatre from a Black feminist perspective, supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons. Jordan is also a freelance playwright, dramaturg, and theatre artist.