As a little girl, she wanted to be a cowboy. If not a cowboy, Tammy Kernodle wanted to become a teacher. In an old photo, a young Kernodle stands in front of an aluminum Christmas tree with her younger brother and her present, a chalkboard twice her size.
Now a professor of musicology at Miami, Kernodle has also recently been elected President of the Society of American Music (SAM), a non-profit scholarly organization dedicated to musicology in the Americas.
“It has surpassed any of the dreams I’ve ever had,” Kernodle said.
The 48-year-old was raised around music, whether it was her father singing or records playing. She still vividly recalls childhood memories of her mornings in rural Virginia.
“Radio and fine bacon,” she said.
Kernodle remembers listening to The Carpenters and Stevie Wonder during breakfast as a child. Her grandmother played the piano, and so when she was three, her parents made her do the same.
“I did not want to play piano,” Kernodle said, “because my grandmother wasn’t very nice.”
Today, she holds a bachelor’s degree in choral music education and piano from Virginia State University, as well as a master’s and doctorate in music history from Ohio State University.
There to witness Kernodle receive her Ph.D in 1997 were five generations of “strong, fierce, black women” including her great-grandmother, a descendant of former slaves, she said.
In the same way these women — as well as African-American abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman — are her inspirations, Kernodle has been an inspiration for countless students.
Carly Jones first met Kernodle as a high school student while visiting Miami for her mother’s reunion. She recently called Kernodle to inform her that she is now music director at the North Carolina Arts Council.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” Jones told her former professor on the phone.
The double-degree graduate in Vocal Performance and Black Music History attended all of Kernodle’s courses during her time at Miami, along with many students outside the music major.
“She truly is a national treasure. She’s just this wealth of knowledge,” Jones said.
To her, Kernodle was more than just a mentor. The professor, author and performer supported her through doubts of pursuing music, and also drove her from Ohio all the way to Atlanta to an ethno-music conference where Jones saw her first live opera performance.
Today, Jones is a professional opera singer.
“Dr. Kernodle doesn’t have any children, but to me, she has a lot of children,” Jones laughed, “because I’m not the only one that she’s inspired.”
Here at Miami, Kernodle views herself as providing “mirrors for people.” Back in the 80’s, she wouldn’t have had opportunities like black students have today.
“When I went to that [historically] black college, I saw black woman professors. I saw black me. I saw what I could be,” Kernodle said. “I know that when black individuals walk into the classroom and see me, they’re seeing something different.”
With her new role in SAM, Kernodle hopes to bring more cultural inclusivity into the organization, as well as work on her upcoming book on black female musicians, civil rights and protest music.