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Catherine Roma interviewed by Joyce Follet, June 19-20, 2005

 File — Box: 46
Link to transcript of Catherine Roma interview
Link to transcript of Catherine Roma interview
Link to video
Link to video

Scope and Contents

Roma recounts her childhood in Philadelphia with emphasis on the importance of her Quaker education. The oral history is a detailed example of building community through music as Roma describes her thirty years of experience in directing women's community choruses as intentional sites of creating anti-racist feminist politics through recruitment of members, decision-making process, musical repertoire and arrangement, performance venue and style, engagement of contemporary social issues, and sustained collaborations with musicians of color, especially Bernice Johnson Reagon. Roma also included six music CDs in her donation. (Transcript 118 pp.)

Dates of Materials

  • June 19-20, 2005


Conditions Governing Web Access

The interviewer and narrator for this interview have agreed that it may be placed on the web.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview is open for research use without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

The interviewer and narrator have transferred copyright of this interview to Smith College.

Biographical / Historical

Catherine Roma was born in Philadelphia on January 29, 1948, the youngest of three children of Italian-born parents. Her mother completed high school and, once married, was a community volunteer. Her father graduated from Princeton University and Temple Law School, but when his own father died young, he left legal practice to run the family's barber shops in Philadelphia and other East Coast railroad terminals. Practicing Catholics, Catherine's parents sent her to Germantown Friends School K-12; she remains a Convinced Friend. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roma earned a BA in music and an MM in Choral Conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she became involved in socialist-feminist politics and began organizing a feminist choral group in 1974. Returning to Philadelphia the following year to teach music at Abington Friends School, she organized and conducted Anna Crusis, the first feminist women's choir in the US. In 1983 she undertook the doctorate in musical arts at the University of Cincinnati, where she founded MUSE, the community chorus she continues to lead.

Under Roma's leadership, MUSE is a vital group in what has become a national and international grassroots movement of women's choruses. MUSE is recognized as a model anti-racist community organization and a progressive force in Cincinnati politics. According to the group's mission statement, MUSE is "a women's choir dedicated to musical excellence and social change. In keeping with our belief that diversity is strength, we are feminist women of varied ages, races, and ethnicities with a range of musical abilities, political interests, and life experiences. We are women loving women; we are heterosexual, lesbian and bisexual women united in song. We commission and seek out music composed by women, pieces written to enhance the sound of women's voices, and songs that honor the enduring spirit of all peoples. In performing, we strive for a concert experience that entertains, inspires, motivates, heals, and creates a feeling of community with our audience."

Roma currently chairs the music department at Wilmington College. In addition to serving as Artistic Director of MUSE, Roma is founder and director of UMOJA Men's Chorus at Warren Correctional Institution, Minister of Music at St. John's Unitarian Church, and co-founder and director of the Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale. Roma and Dorothy Smith, an archivist, have been partners for many years.

Language of Materials