COMP 129
James Baldwin's Song
Last Offered Fall 2021
Division II
Cross-listed AFR 128 / MUS 179
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

“It is only in his music [. . .] that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear,” wrote James Baldwin in Notes of a Native Son in 1955. In this course, we strive to listen more closely to racialized experience through James Baldwin’s musical literature. Through analysis and creation of music, we hope to better understand cultural difference and collective humanity. In this course, we closely analyze James Baldwin’s use of song names, creation of musician characters, and replication of musical elements in his writing. Baldwin’s musical word play crosses historical and genre boundaries. So we will explore texts from his early to late career, such as the gospel music of his youth in the semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, the metaphor of the blues in the play written during the civil-rights movement Blues for Mr. Charlie, the jazz musician protagonist in “Sonny’s Blues” written after World War II in Paris, and his only musical recording in A Lover’s Question set down near the end of his life. In addition to closely analyzing James Baldwin’s attention to music throughout his literature, students will learn basic music writing and production skills. The tutorial will draw on a range of musical resources, including playlists, music workshops, guest lectures and performances. All of these resources will guide students to a more attuned hearing not only of music but also of the African American experience it reflects. By the end of the course, students will have written several short 1-2 page close analysis essays and song lyrics. For their final project, students will produce an original song based on key insights from the course. No musical experience is required, though an openness to learn and practice songwriting is expected.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1349
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Several short 1-2 page close analysis essays of Baldwin's work, oral peer feedback presentations, song lyrics, and an original song composition for the final project
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: This course is specifically for first-year students and they will receive preference in this class; a statement of interest will be solicited from pre-registrants.
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
AFR 128 Division II COMP 129 Division I MUS 179 Division I
Attributes: AFR Core Electives

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