Skip to main content

College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Sharon Davis Gratto, world and funk music champion, retires after 16 years at UD

By Dave Larsen

Sharon Davis Gratto championed global music and Dayton’s funk music heritage during her 16 years at the University of Dayton, founding UD’s World Music Choir, hosting two Dayton Funk symposia and having a downtown street designated “Land of Funk Way.”

Gratto, a professor of music who served as UD Department of Music chair and Graul Endowed Chair in Arts and Languages, retired in May with the rank of professor emerita.

Gratto’s teaching, scholarship, leadership and service have left an “indelible mark” on the University and surrounding community, nurturing not only the careers of students and colleagues but the character and efficacy of UD’s mission, said Toby Rush, associate professor and current UD Department of Music chair.

“In her nine years as chair, the Department of Music experienced some of its strongest growth in enrollment, enrichment of the curriculum and quality, expertise and diversity of faculty,” Rush said. “As Graul Endowed Chair in Arts and Languages, she continued her relentless advocacy of the arts through many important connections to community arts organizations and has been a significant force in helping re-ignite Dayton’s identity as one of the major historical centers of funk music in America.”

Gratto also created UD’s certificate in community arts engagement, which combines community engagement with experiential learning “to help our students follow Dr. Gratto’s incredible example of arts advocacy and carry it into the future,” Rush said.

The first certificate was awarded in May to Laura Morgan ’24, who graduated with a marketing degree. During the spring semester, Morgan interned at Dayton Live, a not-for-profit performing arts organization, through the certificate program. She now works as a venue sales specialist at the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.

Following Gratto’s retirement, the certificate program will be run by Lauren Poor, assistant professor of practice and director of public humanities and arts in UD’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.

Gratto came to Dayton in 2008 from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, joining the UD faculty as professor and seventh department chair. She brought a background in world music, having lived and taught K-12 music at international schools in Germany, Spain and Nigeria. She also studied global choral music during summers for six years at Indiana University. Today, she is the editor of a global music choral series for Pavane Publishing.

In 2009, Gratto created the World Music Choir, an inclusive non-auditioned ensemble that promotes cultural understanding and sensitivity through learning music from around the world, while performing in many languages.

For example, the group performs each November at UD’s annual Kristallnacht remembrance in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, singing in English and Hebrew. These annual presentations by the ensemble led to invitations to sing at the Jewish Federation of Dayton's spring Yom Hashoah observances in area synagogues.

“While singing well is important, it is not the primary point of the ensemble’s work,” Gratto said. “Students are learning diverse music in its historical and cultural context, often singing in as many as five different languages in only one weekly two-hour rehearsal.”

The World Music Choir will continue under the direction of Ryu-Kyung Kim, assistant professor of music. The choir also will continue to perform in collaboration with the University's Javanese Gamelan, under the direction of Professor of Music Heather MacLachlan.

As Graul Chair, Gratto focused on connecting UD’s campus with the greater Dayton community, often through the region’s musical roots. She hosted a Bluegrass Festival Evening in 2017 that featured the World Music Choir, Centerville High School Alternative Strings and the award-winning professional group, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.

Funk Street Name Change, 2022

In 2018, Gratto presented the Dayton Funk Symposium and Dance Party, a multi-day event celebrating the music of Dayton groups such as the Ohio Players, Heatwave and Lakeside, featuring funk musicians and scholars, as well as performances by the Dayton Funk All-Stars, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Touch.

During a second funk symposium in 2021, the city renamed a street in honor of the Ohio Players and redesignated Stone Street, home to a mural honoring local bands from the 1970s and ’80s funk era, as Land of Funk Way. The mural was designed and created by noted Dayton artist Morris Howard.

The 2021 Funk Symposium culminated in a concert at the Schuster Center featuring the Dayton Funk All-Stars and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. It was supported in part through a grant from Culture Works and the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District.

“Many of the events I organized in the Graul Chair position were designed to connect the campus with the greater Dayton community, to bring people together who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to visit UD and to do so at no cost,” Gratto said. “The two funk symposia were specifically aimed at Dayton's African American community of artists and musicians, along with others who simply love funk.”

In retirement, Gratto plans to work with her Shetland sheepdogs, Plummie and Glitzy, who compete in rally, agility and obedience trials. She and her husband also look forward to traveling after teaching music in higher education for 35 years and K-12 for 15 years.

“The school calendar has been our life,” Gratto said. “We look forward to doing things during the academic calendar year.”

Previous Post

Family physician, alumna inspires the next generation of doctors at UD

Annette Chavez's work builds on a long tradition in the University of Dayton's pre-medical department.
Read More
Next Post

College Faculty in the News: June 10, 2024

News agencies across the region, the nation and throughout the world often reach out to our faculty experts for their perspectives on today's issues. 

Read More