It’s coming together. I teach History, am a former journalist and have long had creative interests. Next semester, some of those interests will come together, I hope, in a meaningful way. Minus a little more tinkering (even a published book, one professor once told me, is just another draft), a film that has been in production for quite a while will be finished. The project, which is being submitted for consideration at various film festivals, concerns my former husband’s journey toward learning more about his father, the late jazz guitarist Grant Green. Green was one of the most recorded artists for Blue Note Records, America’s first independent jazz label, in the company’s hey-day: the early to mid-1960s. Since the early 1990s, his music has been sampled by everyone from Madonna, A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, to Kendrick Lamar.
These periods, and even earlier ones, figure into an undergraduate writing and research course I will teach in the Spring semester. It is called “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music.” Without question, by the 1950s we have the arrival of the “teenager,” or a group of young people that marketers could distinguish from their parents. All sorts of things were sold to them including music. Berry Gordy made a heap of money making Motown the music of “Young America.”
The students will be pushed to pay close attention to political and social developments happening behind the creation of music from the late 1950s to the present-day. Along the way, they will focus on a topic. It can be almost anything. They must also have an archive. There will be plenty from which to choose including a digitized collection of sheet music at the University of Alabama’s Hoole Special Collections. Some of that sheet music is from the 1920s when we actually see an earlier split between some young people and their parents. “Flappers” were young women who distinguished themselves with rising hemlines, red lipstick, short hair and smoking cigarettes in public.
Which themes arose in music during this roaring interwar decade that manifest as ones to which Americans return again and again? We will think about possible answers to this question and other ones as we look at shifts in American life like the black freedom struggle, the counterculture movement and the rise of conservatism and if they want to go there, more recent movements.
The nineteenth century has been my primary focus for the last ten years as a grad student and professor. I welcome joining them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (for sure, my present research project requires me to be in these decades).
I look forward to working with these students. I also look forward to using this blog as a central portal for my various class, research and creative interests, which used to appear on different blogs (see The Nineteenth Century City, Gender, Race and the Urban Space , No Second Ghetto, and Grant Green: A Blue Note . Because I have used video and other creative projects in my teaching, the lines are not easily blurred. So this move has meaning. I think being a historian has helped my creative work. Ideas may arrive as being intuitive, but some can be better historicized and analyzed, or not. It is, I think, always a choice.
For example, in the opening pages of the biography on my former husband’s father, it is clear that I was on my own journey toward learning about this incredible musician and the incredible music we call “jazz.” Some readers, particularly guitar players, wanted it to be more. I am proud of the effort. The journalism skills and curiosity I had as a young woman set a foundation for what lied ahead on many fronts including other research interests and now this film.
Stay tuned for more on the documentary and my ongoing projects. On January 26, I will join three other scholars/writers at Tuscaloosa’s Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center to discuss interracial intimacies in the years surrounding the Civil War. For details, visit the Facebook page for my book, Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America (Northern Illinois University Press, 2015).