Sheila Whiteley

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Sheila Whiteley

Sheila was an emeritus professor at Salford University and held Britain’s first chair of popular music, a position she was awarded at Salford in 1999 in recognition of her work in gender, sexuality and culture.

She later became general secretary of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music as well as being a visiting professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, the University of Brighton, Southampton Solent University and the Bader International Study Centre of Queen’s University, Ontario, at Herstmonceux, East Sussex.

A trailblazer in her field, Sheila wrote three books as well as editing many others. The Space Between the Notes (1992), on the relationship between hallucinogenic drugs and popular music, Sexing the Groove (1997), on gender and sexuality, and Women and Popular Music (2000) were widely adopted as definitive texts. She also contributed to more than 30 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as women in Britpop, Mick Jagger and Dad’s Army.

Shortly before her death she was co-writing a book for the new Jimi Hendrix museum in London as well as co-editing a collection of articles on music and virtuality to be published later this year.

Born in Brighton, East Sussex, to a naval officer, Maurice Astrup, and his wife, Ruth (nee Dent), Sheila attended Hove grammar school. She studied the piano from an early age, but took up her academic studies relatively late in life, receiving a first-class honours degree in combined arts from the Open University in 1978 before moving on to research for her PhD through the OU, all the while raising us in a farmhouse in North Yorkshire.

After a period as educational coordinator at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham, Sheila joined Salford University in 1991. An inspirational teacher, she was known for her passionate engagement with her students, many of whom went on to become professional musicians, including members of the Manchester band Everything Everything and the composer and conductor Joe Duddell, who has worked with the Hallé orchestra and Elbow.

Sheila was warm and gentle with a mischievous sense of fun. She detested pomposity in all its forms and, as one of her Salford colleagues recalls, “a less stereotypically professorial academic could hardly be imagined”.

Retiring from Salford in 2006 to Brighton with her husband, Graham Ratcliffe, she never lost her fascination for pop and rock and continued writing, editing and lecturing while enjoying more time with her family.

She is survived by Graham and us, her three daughters from her first marriage, which was dissolved, and by eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.