The Lavender Blues: Queer Music Before World War II Winter 2024

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Class Details

Some of our 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 performers 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. Students will be encouraged to explore the gifts and powers of their own voices too. 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, viewing and listening. At least one group field trip is expected. For a final project students will 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
Expected: NA
Class#: 1333
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Paper(s) or report(s); Creative project(s)
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Statement of interest
Unit Notes: Sarah S. Kilborne is an award-winning author, performance artist and LGBTQ activist. Her one-woman show "The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II" is being developed into both a book and a musical.
Attributes: SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression
STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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