Krystal Klingenberg is a proud native of Washington DC and product of the District of Columbia Public Schools. For her undergraduate degree, she attended Princeton University, graduating in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and certificate in African Studies. She spent the spring semester of 2005 studying Anthropology and Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her undergraduate career culminated with the production of a senior thesis titled, “Staying African: Cultural Maintenance and Identity Among African Immigrants to the United States.” Krystal has been singing since she was a little girl and music has always been important to her. She spent all four years of college singing in an all-girl R&B a cappella group called Culturally Yours, A Cappella with Soul, eventually ascending to the position of music director. She studied musicology and composition at university as well.
After graduating from college, Krystal worked in the advertising department of the Washington Post. As an advertising coordinator, she supported sales staff and worked with small businesses on their ad schedules in the Washington Post and other media properties of the Washington Post company. This proved an excellent opportunity to get her feet wet in the media world and specifically, the fast paced world of newspaper publishing.
After the Post, Krystal moved on to WETA, the PBS affiliate for Washington DC. At WETA she worked as an Associate Project Manager in Learning Media department, where they developed and maintained educational, multimedia web projects. Krystal worked primarily on the BrainLine project, a web resource about preventing, treating, and living with traumatic brain injury. This position exposed her to all parts of the project work: management, administration, production, and technical. Working at WETA plugged Krystal into public media and introduced her to web development.
Throughout her academic and professional career, music has continued to play a key role. Krystal’s participation in Culturally Yours, as well as her academic music study, shaped her college years. After graduating from college Krystal took piano lessons to support her composition skills and to allow her to accompany herself. She started a soul, classic rock band a few months thereafter, Red Line Soul, that began regularly gigging in the DC area. After Red Line Soul ended, Krystal and the Kick was born. More of a jazz, rock combo, Krystal and the Kick allowed her more artistic control over the repertoire of the group, and an opportunity to dig in to the recording process.
The next step in Krystal’s musical evolution was graduate study in Ethnomusicology. She received her doctorate in Music with a secondary field in African and African American studies from Harvard University in May of 2019. Her dissertation, “Toward a More ‘Modern’ Music Industry: The Creative Economy of Popular Music in Uganda,” is on the creation and distribution of Ugandan popular music. Krystal’s interests include the music of Uganda, African American music, popular music, national identity, and social justice.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, Krystal was a Jackie McLean Fellow at University of Hartford and began an appointment as Assistant Professor of Music History at Hartford in the Fall of 2019. She took a leave of absence to teach at Swarthmore College as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music, where she taught courses on Musical Cultures of the World, African Music, and African American Music.
In March of 2021, Krystal began a permanent position as a curator of music at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, in the division of Cultural and Community Life. This position represents a pivot away from the university classroom but toward the opportunity of a lifetime to enrich the national narrative around the role of Black people in America’s musical legacy.
Krystal is passionate about public ethnomusicology, enthusiastic about Black music of all kinds, and deeply invested in accurate portrayals of modern Africa. Service of those three domains energizes her daily.