James O’Leary specializes in popular music and opera, and focuses his research on Broadway musicals of the 1940s. He investigates the ways in which composers have strategically and self-consciously projected aesthetic hierarchies (high art versus popular, highbrow versus middlebrow) to intervene in political debates during World War II and the early Cold War.
He has published work in the Journal of Musicology and he is currently editing his book, which will be published by Oxford University Press.
He has presented his work at a number of conferences, including annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, at the Society for American Music, and at the Sorbonne. In August 2017, O’Leary won the Transnational Opera Studies Conference Award for best paper by a scholar in the early stages of his career for his research on Kurt Weill.
In addition to his written work, O’Leary has lectured for the Metropolitan Opera and has worked as a pianist, music director, and arranger for the Yale School of Drama, the American Repertory Theater Oberon Stage, and the Williamstown Theater Festival.
O’Leary founded the Frederick R. Selch Center for the Study of American Culture, which sponsors student research and invites distinguished scholars from a wide variety of fields to work with members of the faculty. His professorship draws upon the Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History.