Todd Decker

Todd Decker

Chair of Music
Professor of Musicology, American Culture Studies, Performing Arts (Affiliate), and Film and Media Studies (Affiliate)
PhD, University of Michigan
MM, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
BA, Fresno Pacific College
research interests:
  • Film Music and Musicals
  • The Broadway Musical
  • Popular Music

contact info:

office hours:

  • ​by appointment

mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
    CB 1032
    ONE BROOKINGS DR.
    ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899

Professor Decker has published four books on commercial popular music in the United States from the 1920s to the present. He teaches courses on twentieth-century American popular music, film music, and eighteenth-century European art music.

Todd Decker has published four books on commercial popular music in the United States from the 1920s to the present (Broadway, Hollywood film and television, the recorded music industry, jazz before 1970).

  • Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam (University of California Press, 2017) examines how music and sound have been deployed in war films made from 1978 to the present centering on the experience of American soldiers on foreign battlefields.
  • Who Should Sing “Ol’ Man River”?: The Lives of an American Song (Oxford University Press, 2015) traces the performance history of this very well-known song across eight decades and a wide array of genres—jazz to rock, opera to gospel, doo wop to reggae—with an ear to how the history of race relations in the US has played out in the realm of popular music.
  • Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical (Oxford University Press, 2013) was recognized as an Honorable Mention for the Woody Guthrie Award for Outstanding Book on Popular Music by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music–US. The book uses extensive archival research to consider how performers—both black and white—shaped this landmark work in its original 1927 Broadway version and in subsequent versions produced in New York, London, and Hollywood.​
  • Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz (University of California Press, 2011) received the Best First Book Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Music Makes Me locates Fred Astaire’s film and television career in the histories of popular song and jazz and explores Astaire’s dances accompanied by African American musicians in the segregated world of the film musical.

Decker’s current projects include a critical edition of the music in the film Shall We Dance (1937) for the George and Ira Gershwin Initiative, another book on Fred Astaire, and a single-volume history of the Broadway musical, as well as book chapters on Broadway musicals with multiracial casts, the Jeanette MacDonald / Nelson Eddy film operettas of the 1930s, and country music songs telling stories about American soldiers.

Professor Decker has given numerous scholarly presentations nationally and internationally, including at the Library of Congress, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the University of Texas at Austin, the College of William and Mary, and Northwestern University. He is an international partner with the Labex Arts-H2H project Musical MC2, based in Paris. This three-year examination of the Hollywood film musical includes six biannual symposiums in France, print publications in French and English, and a digital humanities component.

Decker’s articles, book chapters, and blog posts consider race in Hollywood and Broadway musicals, music in the films Dunkirkand La La Land,  archival research on the Broadway musical, the closeting of gay characters and films in the 1990s, Martin Scorsese’s use of popular music in the film CasinoOscar Hammerstein II’s humanitarian ideals in The King and I, and disco in the film The Martian.

Professor Decker received his Ph.D. in historical musicology at the University of Michigan in 2007 and was selected for an Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Fellowship by the American Musicological Society in 2006-07. He joined the faculty of Washington University in fall 2007—after a one-year visiting position at UCLA—and teaches courses on twentieth-century American popular music, film music, and eighteenth-century European art music.

Outside his work on American music, Prof. Decker has published articles on eighteenth-century keyboard composer Domenico Scarlatti and holds a Master of Music in harpsichord performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has many years of experience performing on harpsichord, piano, and organ, as well as conducting, directing, choreographing, and performing musical theatre. He frequently accompanies his wife, soprano Kelly Daniel-Decker, in cabaret shows of classic American popular songs.

Publications



Books: 



  • Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam (University of California Press, 2017)

  • Who Should Sing “Ol’ Man River”?: The Lives of an American Song (Oxford University Press, 2015)

  • Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical (Oxford University Press, 2013)

  • Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz (University of California Press, 2011)

Articles and Book Chapters:     



  • “Fred Astaire, Captain America, and the Cyborg: The Technological Body of a Musical Star” In Stars of Hollywood Musicals (French and English editions), Marguerite Chabrol and Pierre--Olivier Toulza, eds., Presses du reel, Grande Collection du Labex Arts-H2H (Paris)

  • “‘Big, as in Large, as in Huge’: Dreamgirls and Difference in the Performance of Gender, Blackness, and Popular Music History” In Twenty-First Century Musicals: From Stage to Screen, George Rodosthenous, ed., Routledge: 94-109.

  • “Racing in the Beat: Music in The Fast and the Furious Franchise” In Contemporary Musicals, K.J. Donnelly and Beth Carroll, eds., Edinburgh University Press: 157-173.

  • “Domenico Scarlatti.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Music. Bruce Gustafson, ed., Oxford University Press

  • “Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.’s ‘Simple Idea’: Girls and Music in Tastefully Extravagant Settings.” and “Garth Drabinsky’s ‘Grand Moves’: Artistic Ambition and Commercial Illusions in the 1990s.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Musical Theater Producers, eds. William Everett and Laura MacDonald, Palgrave Macmillan (2016).

  •  “‘We’re the Real Countries’: Songs as Private Musical Territories in the Epic Romances CasablancaDoctor Zhivago, and The English Patient.” In Music in Epic Films: Listening to Spectacle, Stephen C. Meyer, ed., Routledge Music and Screen Media Series (2016).

  • “The Filmmaker as DJ: Martin Scorsese’s Compiled Score for Casino (1995)” in Journal of Musicology 34/2 (2017)

  • “A Waltz with and for the Greatest Generation: Music in Band of Brothers (2001)” in Living-Room Wars: American Militarism on the Small Screen, edited by Stacy Takacs and Anna Froula (Routledge, 2016)

  • “On the ‘I’ in The King and I” in Lincoln Center Theatre Review 65, Spring 2015.

  • “Fancy Meeting You Here: Pioneers of the Concept Album.” Daedalus 142/4, Fall 2013.

  • Entries in The Grove Dictionary of American Music 2nd edition (Charles Hiroshi Garrett, ed., Oxford University Press, 2013): “Fred Astaire,” “Josephine Baker,” “Jack Benny,” “Bing Crosby,” “Todd Duncan,” “Judy Garland,” “Jackie Gleason,” “Gene Kelly,” “Lonette McKee,” “Helen Morgan,” “Musical Theater, 1918-1930,” “Bill (Bojangles) Robinson,” “Ginger Rogers,” “Saint Louis, Missouri,” “Shirley Temple (Black),” “Ethel Waters”

  • “The Musical Mr. Ripley: Closeting a Character in the 1950s and a Film in the 1990s” in Music, Sound and the Moving Image 6/2, Fall 2012.

  • "On the Scenic Route to Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn (1942)" in Journal of Musicology 28/4, Fall 2011

  • "Race, Ethnicity, Performance" in The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical, edited by Raymond Knapp, Mitchell Morris and Stacy Wolf (Oxford University Press, 2011)

  • “‘Do You Want to Hear a Mammy Song?’: A Historiography of Show Boat” in Contemporary Theatre Review 19/1, February 2009.

  • “The Essercizi and the Editors: Visual Virtuosity, Large-Scale Form and Editorial Reception” in Domenico Scarlatti Adventures: Essays to Commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his Death (Ad Parnassum Studies 3), edited by W. Dean Sutcliffe and Massimiliano Sala (Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 2008).

  • “‘Scarlattino, the wonder of his time’: Domenico Scarlatti’s Absent Presence in Eighteenth-Century England” in Eighteenth-Century Music 2/2, September 2005.

Reviews in:



  • American Music

  • American Studies Journal

  • The Common Reader (online)

  • The Figure in the Carpet (Center for the Humanities, WUSTL)

  • The Kurt Weill Foundation Newsletter

  • Journal of Popular Music Studies

  • Journal of the Society for American Music

  • Theatre Journal

Awards



  • Honorable Mention, Woody Guthrie Award for Outstanding Book on Popular Music for Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical, International Association for the Study of Popular Music – United States

  • Best First Book Award for Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz, Society for Cinema and Media Studies. 2012

  • Faculty Fellowship, Spring 2011, Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis

  • Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Fellow, 2006-07, American Musicological Society

Courses



Undergraduate



Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam



Bruce Springsteen's USA



Popular Music in American Culture



History of the Film Score



The American Musical Film



Graduate



Introduction to Musicological Research



Introduction to Popular Music Studies



American Musical Biography



Music in the Eighteenth Century



Soundtrack Studies: Music, Noise, Voices



From Vitaphone to YouTube: Popular Music and the Moving Image