Robert O'Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and founder and former director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He is also a 2018-2019 Former Fellow of the Institute for Ideas and Imagination.
His major interests are American literature, music, and painting. He has written extensively on Ralph Ellison, including The Craft of Ralph Ellison (Harvard, 1980), and a collection of papers for which he served as editor, New Essays on Invisible Man (Cambridge, 1989).
Professor O'Meally has written a biography of Billie Holiday entitled Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday (Little, Brown, 1989) and a documentary on Holiday (which has been shown on public TV). He also is the author of The Jazz Singers (Smithsonian, 1997) and principal writer of the monograph, Seeing Jazz (Smithsonian, 1997). He edited Tales of the Congaree (University of North Carolina, 1990), and The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (Columbia, 1998); and co-edited History and Memory in African American Culture (Oxford, 1994), the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia, 2003).
His production of the recording The Jazz Singers was nominated for a Grammy Award. His Holiday book and his liner notes for Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington collections won Ralph Gleason Awards. O'Meally's new book is Romare Bearden: Black Odyssey--A Search for Home, catalogue for a show opening this fall at D.C. Moore Gallery on Fifth Avenue. His new project is a full study of Bearden's uses of literary subjects.
About Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an African-American artist and author of a history of his people's art. He worked with many types of media including cartoons, oils, and collages. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden grew up in New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from NYU in 1935.
He began his artistic career creating scenes of the American South. Later, he worked to express the humanity he felt was lacking in the world after his experience in the US Army during World War II on the European front. He returned to Paris in 1950 and studied Art History and Philosophy at the Sorbonne.
Bearden's early work focused on unity and cooperation within the African-American community. After a period during the 1950s when he painted more abstractly, this theme reemerged in his collage works of the 1960s. New York Times described Bearden as "the nation's foremost collagist" in his 1988 obituary. Bearden became a founding member of the Harlem-based art group known as The Spiral, formed to discuss the responsibility of the African-American artist in the civil rights movement.
Bearden was the author or coauthor of several books. He also was a songwriter, known as co-writer of the jazz classic "Sea Breeze", which was recorded by Billy Eckstine, a former high school classmate at Peabody High School, and Dizzy Gillespie. He had long supported young, emerging artists and he and his wife established the Bearden Foundation to continue this work, as well as to support young scholars. In 1987, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts.