B.M. (1970), M.A. (1972), and Ph.D. (1977), University of Michigan. She taught at Columbia University (1977-1982), New York University (1982-1990), and Wesleyan University (1990-1992), before joining the Harvard faculty in 1992. At Harvard, Shelemay has served as Chair of the Department of Music (1994-1999; acting chair, spring 2002; chair, spring 2005; emergency chair, 2007) and is active in interdisciplinary studies across several domains. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy for Jewish Research, the American Philosophical Society, and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, she is a Past President of the Society for Ethnomusicology. A Congressional appointee to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress from 2000-2013, she was Chair of that Board from 2002-2004. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Radcliffe Institute. Shelemay was named the Chair in Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress during August and September, 2007 and June, 2008. During 2015-2016, she was the Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. Shelemay also co-chairs (with Patricia J. Tang) the Musics Abroad seminar through the Mahindra Humanities Center.
In addition to longtime interests in musical ethnography and music and memory, Shelemay's current research is on Ethiopian music and musicians in their North American diaspora. Her latest project, Sing and Sing On: Sentinel Musicians and the Making of the Ethiopian American Diaspora, was published by the University of Chicago Press in January of 2022. Her monograph Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986, 1989) won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award and the Prize of the International Musicological Society. In addition to the seven-volume collection Garland Readings in Ethnomusicology (1990) and A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey (1991), Shelemay edited the three-volume Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant: An Anthology (1993, 1994, 1997, with Peter Jeffery). Other recent publications include Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews (1998, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award) and Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World (2001, third edition 2015). She has co-edited Pain and Its Transformations: The Interface of Biology and Culture (with Sarah Coakley), published by Harvard University Press in 2008 and Creating the Ethiopian Diaspora: Perspectives from Across the Disciplines (with Steven Kaplan), published by Tsehai Publishers in 2015. She received the Society for Ethnomusicology Jaap Kunst Prize in 2010 for her article, “The Power of Silent Voices.” Shelemay received an Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Columbia University School of General Studies in 1982, and at Harvard, the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize, both in 2006, and the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award in 2014.