MUS 17
The Lavender Blues: Queer Music Before World War II Winter 2022

Cross-listed MUS 17 / WGSS 17 / THEA 17
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

Some of the most famous American musical artists of the early twentieth century were not only “in the life”–meaning gay, bisexual, or transgender–but they sang about this life too. The most courageous of these artists? Women–queer white women and queer women of color. This course will introduce students to a little-known yet revolutionary moment in music history when pioneering artists sang boldly about sexual and gender fluidity and when women’s voices literally took center stage. Each week our sessions will be anchored with a particular star whose life and music will lead us thematically to so much more. We’ll start in vaudeville with the male impersonators, move on to the early blues and come home with the Jazz Age. Among other things we’ll listen to recordings, watch videos, discuss the power of lyrics and language, learn the antecedents of modern-day drag, find out the stories behind the songs, discover how these songs influenced (and reflected) audiences and explore how this music evolved over time. We will sing a bit too! (But no vocal experience required.) Throughout we’ll uncover what queer music history–and queer female artists–have to tell us about masculinity, femininity, gender fluidity, cross-dressing, homosexuality, love, race, religion and… fun. Students will be expected to keep a journal of ideas and reflection and do outside reading and listening. For a final project they’ll write a 10-page paper, give a 10-minute in-class performance, or complete a comparable creative project inspired by the music/artists learned.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 10
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: final project or presentation
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: statement of interest
Unit Notes: Sarah S. Kilborne is an acclaimed author, performance artist and LGBTQ activist. Her multidisciplinary work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Slate, Buzzfeed, and other national media. Her one-woman show The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II has been honored by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals as one of the most exciting new works of recent years. Her website is:
Materials/Lab Fee: none
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
MUS 17 WGSS 17 THEA 17

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