He was born in Eutaw, Alabama, and raised in Birmingham and in Burlington, New Jersey. In high school Szwed studied trombone with Donald S. Rinehardt and music theory with Mervin Hutton, and played bass and trombone professionally for ten years. He studied at Marietta College and Ohio State University, where he received a Ph.D in anthropology.

His research in social anthropology and folk music took him to Newfoundland, the Georgia Sea Islands, and Trinidad. He has taught at Temple University, Lehigh University, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania (where he was co-director of the Center for Urban Ethnography with Erving Goffman and Dell Hymes, and was Chair of the Department of Folklore and Folklife). At Yale University he was John M. Musser Professor of Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies for 26 years. He was also Louis Armstrong Professor of Jazz Studies at Columbia University in 2003-04 and 2005-2007.

Szwed is married to Marilyn Anderson Szwed and lives in Connecticut and New York City. Their son is Matthew Szwed.

Source: Official Website