MAGNIFYING, No. 22: Elizabeth T. Craft

October 22 2019

MAGNIFYING is a series dedicated to showcasing the talent of our students, faculty, and staff to help you learn more about the remarkable individuals within our creative community here at the College of Fine Arts. 

Elizabeth T. Craft is an Assistant Professor of Musicology in the School of Music. Before joining the faculty at the University of Utah, Craft completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University and taught at Wellesley College and Northeastern University. Her research crosses disciplinary boundaries to explore how music conveys sociopolitical values and constructs national identity, focusing especially on musical theater from the early twentieth century through the present.

Craft’s recent publications examine the politics and reception of the musical Hamilton (in the journal American Music), the George M. Cohan biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (in The Oxford Handbook of Musical Theatre Screen Adaptations), and the musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda (forthcoming in The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical). Her work also appears in The Critical Companion to the American Stage Musical, Crosscurrents: American and European Music in Interaction, 1900–2000, the journal Studies in Musical Theatre, and New York Public Library’s Musical of the Month blog. She is currently writing a book on the Broadway musicals and cultural impact of the composer, playwright, actor, director, and producer George M. Cohan.This past summer, Craft was invited to speak at the “You’re a Grand Old Rag” Paragon Ragtime Orchestra concert and Cohan celebration at La Mirada Theatre in La Mirada, California. She was also interviewed on the Slate podcast Hit Parade with Chris Molanphy. 

When did you first know you wanted to get into the arts? 
When I performed in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof in my small-town community theater production in middle school—I was hooked! Actually, though, even when I went to college and double-majored in music and sociology, I thought music would be an avocation. Doing a senior honors thesis about depictions of crime in musical theater opened my eyes to the ways in which I might combine my artistic and scholarly interests and make a career of it.   

Have there been any twists and turns in your career that you didn’t expect? 
Certainly. I thought I might go straight into a Ph.D. program from my undergraduate degree, but my undergraduate studies had been interdisciplinary, and getting a master's in musicology allowed me to really learn my field so that I was well prepared when I entered the Ph.D. program at Harvard University. I also never would have guessed I’d be writing a book on George M. Cohan!   

What draws you to George M. Cohan? 
Growing up, I loved the Fourth of July. My town hosted North Carolina’s official Fourth of July festival, a week-long celebration. I grew up hearing Cohan’s songs—like “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”—but not knowing that they came from musicals. When I started working on my dissertation, on immigrant narratives in musical theater, I learned that Cohan was Irish American. In a period when the Irish occupied society’s bottom rungs and were considered inferior to Anglo-Saxon whites, he became an emblem of American patriotism, known as the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” he sang about in one of his hit songs. It’s a fascinating story.  

What is your favorite memory from the University of Utah? 
There are so many! I love the feeling when a class discussion goes really well and as a result, we all come to a deeper understanding of a complex topic. This happened over the course of the semester when I taught a seminar called “Performing Race on Broadway” as we discussed the thorny subjects of racial representation, casting, and the stereotypes embedded in classic works. I’ve also had amazing opportunities to collaborate with local institutions to bring guests to campus—hearing Jeremy Howard Beck talk about his new opera The Long Walk, about an Iraq veteran’s attempts to readjust to life in the United States, and then seeing the Utah Opera production with my “Opera Literature” class was a stunningly powerful experience.