The Society of Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955, during the 54th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Today, the Society claims to have more than 2000 members from six continents adhering to their mission statement - "to promote the research, study, and performance of music in all historical periods and cultural contexts".

The annual assembly of the Society has often been held in conjunction with the meetings of related associations, such as the American Musicological Society. Members of the Society represent a multitude of disciplines, not only the rather obvious music/musicology and anthropology, but also fields such as linguistics, psychology, art history and aesthetics.

The Society is governed by an eight-member all-American board of directors, advised by a council. Both bodies are elected by the members. Some eight prizes/awards are presented by the Society, in recognition of scholars, institutions, and articles and other scientific publications.

The journal appropriately named Ethnomusicology is the main publication of the Society. This journal actually started out as The Ethno-Musicology Newsletter in 1953 - two years before the founding of the Society. Three numbers are issued every year.

The Society has separate sections for applied ethnomusicology, status of women, popular music, and education - the latter aims to promote intercultural music education and instruction from preschool through the postgraduate level. There are also about five ancillary organizations that meet during the assemblies of the Society. National societies for musicology exist in some countries, but are not necessarily directly connected to this one.

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