Stephen Shearon is a musicologist and ethnomusicologist specializing in the study of sacred music cultures, especially those of western Christianity. Since 2004 he has focused on gospel music, broadly defined. His first gospel-music study was of the ongoing convention-singing culture associated with such American publishers as James D. Vaughan and Stamps-Baxter. This led him to create, in collaboration with filmmaker Mary Nichols, the film documentary I’ll Keep On Singing”: The Southern Gospel Convention Tradition (2010) and to write articles for such publications as Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music (2005) and The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology (2013). Perhaps most important is the extended “Gospel music” article he and Robert Darden revised and expanded for The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2d ed. (forthcoming, but available via Grove Music Online, a part of Oxford Music Online). With The Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, Shearon organized Farther Along: A Conference on the Southern Gospel Convention-Singing Tradition (4-5 April 2008). Currently he is writing a book on the pre-1910 roots of southern gospel and turning his focus to gospel music as a global phenomenon: The Gospel Music Phenomenon.
Prior to 2004, Shearon’s primary research interest was European Christian music of the eighteenth-century. In 1979 he founded The North Carolina Bach Festival (Raleigh) and led it for approximately ten years. As a scholar, he completed studies of J. S. Bach’s Leipzig choirs and the sacred music of southern Italy, in particular Naples. Shearon is a full professor in the School of Music at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).
Raised on a tobacco farm near Wake Forest, North Carolina, he was brought up working in his parents’ pork barbecue restaurant and attending Rolesville (Southern) Baptist Church – all while being trained for and socialized into the western classical music culture. Before arriving at MTSU in 1994, he received the Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University and the M.A. and Ph.D. in Musicology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.