Born in New York City and raised by artist-public-school-teacher parents in Brooklyn, Emma Alabaster grew up singing jazz standards with her dad on the piano; learning Civil Rights, labor and Yiddish songs at Camp Kinderland; and belting her heart out in the alto section of public school chorus. Emma began her formal study of upright bass and voice at Laguardia High School for the Arts where she studied opera, fell in love with jazz, and performed anti-apartheid anthems with Hugh Masekela at Carnegie Hall.
Emma went on to receive a B.A. in Music with a concentration in Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Bard College, where she studied jazz composition and bass performance with Erica Lindsay, John Esposito, Ira Coleman and Kenny Davis. She studied abroad for a summer in Capetown, South Africa with the International Human Rights Exchange program where she learned from local professors, organizers and activists; and interned as a student at Brooklyn's Center for Improvised Music where she began ongoing bass study with Mark Helias.
For over a decade, Emma has worked in NYC as a bassist, vocalist, composer, music director and teaching artist.
As an independent artist, In 2009 Emma Alabaster’s debut album, In the Third Generation the Daughters are Free was released on the independent label Proliferate Music. Emma music-directed luminary poet Cornelius Eady's band, Rough Magic from 2012-2016. She was selected for the 2014 cohort of EMERGENYC, the activist-artist training program of NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. In 2017, Emma and drummer/ producer Leo Ferguson released their debut album as decibelists, followed by a video for their anti-gentrification anthem, Galapagos and national touring.
As an educator, Emma is a Teaching Artist in public schools with organizations like Brooklyn Arts Council and Sadie Nash Leadership Project; was a 2017 Lincoln Center Boro-Linc Artist-in-Residence at Snug Harbor Cultural Center; and teaches comprehensive, patient-centered gynecological exams at medical schools throughout the New York area.
As a cultural organizer and member-leader with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ,) Emma facilitates, song-leads, and produces cultural work in coordination with movements working to dismantle white supremacy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Emma adapted to online organizing by producing several videos for the Let My People Go campaign, which raises money to bond people out of ICE detention, and providing music and editing for the Birth Justice Podcast NYC.
Other collaborations include: Cornelius Eady and Rough Magic (music direction;) tamar-kali’s Psycho Chamber Ensemble; The Aftselakhis Spectacle Committee’s Annual Purim Shpil (music direction;) Dreaming in Yiddish directed by Marilyn Lerner, Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg; Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra; John Esposito’s A Book of Five Rings; Lady Moon & the Eclipse; Kirya Traber’s Both My Grandfathers at Lincoln Center, What We Needed: Then and Now at JACK, Family Ghosts Podcast, and Lincoln Center Education residencies at Women In Need Shelters in the Bronx and Brooklyn; Alicia Raquel’s Hips Hands Tongue at Brooklyn Arts Exchange and Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance; As a band leader/ co-leader: decibelists, Captain for Dark Mornings, The Curious Shape of Hens, Scrap Relation.