MUS 118
Hearing Race in America, 1890-1955 Spring 2022
Division I Difference, Power, and Equity

Class Details

The rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mid-1950s has typically been viewed as a temporary confluence in American culture, suggesting possibilities for musical and racial integration even as various forms of appropriation and exclusion were perpetuated. This course will explore the earlier multiple musical streams that merged at this moment. We will start by engaging with contemporary and historical perspectives on race, adopting a radically interdisciplinary approach. Our focus will then be on several of the most prominent vernacular and commercial forms of American music during this period: ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, Tin Pan Alley, country, bluegrass, Tex-Mex/Tejano conjunto, “Latin jazz,” and cajun/zydeco. Prior to the 1950s, these musical styles were segregated, at least in terms of production and marketing. How did racial assumptions and histories shape the creation, dissemination, and reception of this music? Can we hear the multiple ways in which race played out in American music in the first half of the twentieth century?
The Class: Format: lecture; lecture/discussion
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3722
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on a 5-page paper, a midterm, a 7-page paper, a final exam, and on class participation.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Random selection.
Distributions: Division I Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: We will focus on how racial imagination and systemic racism shaped the creation, marketing, and reception of multiple genres and styles in American popular music from 1890 to 1955. Before embarking on this historical study, we will first become familiar with current theories of race and with dominant American perceptions of race c. 1900. Perceptions of difference (in multiple forms), realities of market power, and issues of artistic and financial equity directly impacted music in this period.

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