With her deadline a month away, Marlaina Owens ’16 wrote a statement of purpose while her train traveled from Germany to Paris. Owens was applying for a Fulbright award to complete research on her topic, “Road-Mapping Blackness Through Music in Paris.”
She had traveled far since graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in vocal performance to arrive at this point. Her research, which she intends to result in a lecture-recital series for audiences throughout the U.S., links race-based civil unrest in Paris with the music being composed at that time.
“Even in struggle there is Black joy,” said Owens. “There is a lot of strife and darkness in history, but that is not what makes me want to get up and sing.” She sees the musical and artistic explosion of the Harlem Renaissance and the social conflicts that informed and inspired those creators as a model for her research.
Owens arrived in Paris, made the Fulbright deadline, and was awarded the grant. Starting in October 2022, she begins 10 months of independent study, with input from an affiliate, Annick Massis, an opera singer in Paris who is renowned for her interpretation of works in the 19th- century Italian and French repertoires.
The journey of art, culture, and justice for Owens has been consistent. At LMU, she was a member of the Marians service organization, but was undecided on her academic path. Music was a major part of her home life, so she dabbled while she considered her options. She was part of a performance on campus when Rae Linda Brown, who was the associate provost for undergraduate education and a professor of music, saw her sing. Brown, a prominent musicologist, invited Owens to her office and encouraged her to consider a musical track. After Owens spent half her junior year at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she met many accomplished singers, she got serious. She spent a study abroad in the classical milieu of Austria, where she gained artistic and personal insights. LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts Dean Bryant Keith Alexander, Ph.D., and Brown helped her find her way to graduate school at UC Irvine, where she received a full ride scholarship.
For her master’s degree recital, Owens performed a program of music by African American women composers, including Florence B. Price, who was the subject of a biography written by Brown and published posthumously.
Owens has been quite busy since graduation: she made her mainstage debut with Long Beach Opera this past May; she joined Lyric Opera of Chicago in their productions of Tosca, Beethoven’s Ninth, and “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”; and she was accepted into Opera Santa Barbara’s Chrisman Studio Program, a well-known young artist program, where she performed Handel’s “Semele.” The well-traveled performer then curated a two-month, self-sponsored voice summer program in Germany and France. It was on this trip that her research topic coalesced.
Her research project is a self-funded enterprise, so Owens has started a GoFundMe appeal to raise support. “My focus is to find the way to celebrate ourselves in the moments of darkness,” Owens said, seeing the artistic, cultural, and justice possibilities in “Road-Mapping Blackness Through Music in Paris.”