Mourning the passing of Franya Berkman

It is with sadness that we announce the passing of author and scholar Franya Berkman.

Franya Berkman (1969–2012) was an assistant professor at Lewis & Clark College. She received her PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 2004 and her MA in world music, also from Wesleyan, in 1999. Her BA in music was earned from Sarah Lawrence in 1992. She also completed graduate coursework in music theory at the City College of New York.

Dr. Berkman’s major fields of study were ethnomusicology, jazz, and gender and music. She also studied spiritual, cultural, and musical hybridity in the 20th and 21st century and life history in the study of  music-culture. Her publications included Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane (Wesleyan, 2010) and “Appropriating Universiality: The Coltranes and Sixties Spirituality” (American Studies, 2005). She was working on her second book, Obo Addy: Ga Master Drummer, Global Musician.

While working on Monument Eternal, Dr. Berkman was able to conduct a series of interviews with Alice Coltrane. Her book is an important contribution to the study of Coltrane, and has been praised as “a compelling portrait of an extraordinary woman” and “a fascinating and important study” (Pamela Margels, The WholeNote). Berkman has been complemented as being “adept at both elucidating Coltrane’s spiritual beliefs and analyzing her music in relationship to those beliefs.” (Chris Kennedy, Musicworks). “Berkman capsizes the standard misogynistic readings of John-Alice’s musical relationship by recasting it as ‘an intimate and complex marital partnership in which family life and religious exploration provided a foundation for their mutual development.’” (Tony Herrington, The Wire). Monument Eternal was recently recognized as a finalist for the Jazz Journalists Association Book Award.

Dr. Berkman’s passing is enormous loss to the music community. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family. Those who wish to support her family may do so by contributing here: