Dena Epstein has had a lifetime interest in the history of American music publishing and in pre-Civil War African-American music in the United States and West Indies. She is the author of many publications, the best known being Sinful Tunes and Spirituals (University of Illinois Press, 1977) and Music Publishing in Chicago Before 1871 (Information Coordinators, 1969). Her articles have appeared in Notes, Musical Quarterly, Ethnomusicology, and American Music. The most recent include "Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family's Claim to the Confederate Anthem" (1994), "Frederick Stock and American Music" (1992), "Black Spirituals: Their Emergence into Public Knowledge" (1990), and "The Mysterious WPA Music Periodicals Index" (1989). She has received numerous awards, including two National Endowment for the Humanities grants, the Chicago Folklore Prize, and the Francis Butler Simkins Prize from the Southern Historical Association. She is perhaps the most proud of I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl (University of Illinois Press, 1989). Edited by Dena, this book is the autobiography of Hilda Satt Polacheck, her mother.
Until her retirement, Dena Epstein was Assistant Music Librarian at the University of Chicago for some 22 years. Active throughout her career in the Music Library Association, Dena served on the Board of Directors as member-at-large and as MLA President from 1977 to 1979. She also chaired and was a member of many committees. In 1986, Dena Epstein was awarded MLA's highest honor, a Citation, and became an honorary member of the Association.