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Bruno Nettl was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1930, moved to United States in 1939, studied at Indiana University with George Herzog and the University of Michigan, and taught from 1964 at the University of Illinois, where he eventually was named Professor Emeritus of Music and Anthropology. He continued to teach part-time until his death. Active principally in the field of ethnomusicology, he did field research with Native American peoples (1960s and 1980s, see Blackfoot music), in Iran (1966, 1968–69, 1972, 1974), and in South India (1981–2). He served as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and as editor of its journal, Ethnomusicology. Nettl held honorary doctorates from the University of Illinois, Carleton College, Kenyon College, and the University of Chicago. He was a recipient of the Fumio Koizumi Prize for ethnomusicology, and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nettl was named the 2014 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecturer by the American Council of Learned Societies. In the course of his long career as a scholar and as a professor, he was the teacher of many of the most visible ethnomusicologists active today in the international scene, including Philip Bohlman, Christopher Waterman, Marcello Sorce Keller, and Victoria Lindsay Levine. The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music holds the Bruno Nettl Papers, 1966–1988, which consists of administrative and personal correspondence while Nettl was a professor and head of the Musicology Division for the University of Illinois School of Music.
Nettl was an extremely prolific scholar who authored numerous articles and book chapters found in an array of scholarly journals and edited volumes. Below is the list of books for which he is credited as author or editor.
- (1956). Music in Primitive Culture. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-59000-7.
- (1960). Cheremis Musical Styles. Indiana University Press
- (1964). Theory and Method in Ethnomusicology. The Free Press of Glencoe.
- (1965/1989). Folk and Traditional Music of the Western Continents. Prentice-Hall, Inc. ISBN 0-13-323247-6.
- (1976). Folk Music In The U.S. An Introduction. WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
- (1977). Daramad of Chahargah : a study in the performance practice of Persian music. Detroit : Information Coordinators.
- (1978). Eight Urban Musical Cultures. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
- (1989). Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives. Ohio: The Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-370-2.
- (1983/2005). The Study of Ethnomusicology. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-03033-8.
- (1991). Comparative Musicology And Anthropology Of Music. (with Philip V. Bohlman) University of Chicago Press.
- (1995). Heartland Excursions. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02135-5
- (1995). Music, Culture, & Experience. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
- (1996). Excursions In World Music. PRENTICE HALL
- (1996). Musica Folklorica Y Tradicional En Los Continentes ALIANZA
- (1997). Africa in GARLAND PUBLISHING
- (1998). South America, Mexico, Central America And The Car
- (1998). In The Course Of Performance. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
- (1999). Europe in GARLAND ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD MUSIC, V. 8
- (2005). Study Of Ethnomusicology UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS
- (2010). Nettl's Elephant UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS
- (2013). Becoming an Ethnomusicologist: A Miscellany of Influences. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-8697-9.
Marcello Sorce Keller, "Intervista con un etnomusicologo: Bruno Nettl", Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, 1980. no. 4, 567–576.
- Department of Anthropology@University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Music: Bruno Nettl
- Native Culture: Midcentury Anthropology At Indiana, Arapaho Bill Shakespear, and Me by Bruno Nettl
- Review of Nettl's 2005 revised edition of "The Study of Ethnomusicology"
- Finding Aid for Bruno Nettl Papers, 1966–1988 The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music