We are three weeks into the semester and things are progressing nicely with a new course, “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music.” I have enjoyed seeing the students mull over the topics they hope to pursue as a research project.
Their task: writing a substantial research paper with a clear argument and archive that unveils the story of young Americans and music since World War II.
Their topics so far range from recovering the Notorious B.I.G.’s Brooklyn, a comparative look at Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur, black women’s resistance politics via Janet Jackson, probing the ties between psychedelic drugs and music, exploring whether hip hop could exist without poverty, to recasting Johnny Cash inside a narrative that invites attention to a southern white man’s birth during the Great Depression and his ascent as a country music rebel, and an exploration of what technology has done for music and revisiting to the East Coast-West Coast flavored gangsta-style hip hop story. Our initial texts were excerpts from Robin Kelley’s Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class, Hettie Jones’ memoir, an excerpt from James Patterson’s Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974, and Tupac Shakur’s poems.
One critical goal has been helping them to fully think through how to make connections between the readings and their topics, but also see the complexities of Patterson’s “grand expectations” argument. There was so much hope in America after World War II. Where do we look to identify the triumphs and unrealized dreams for many different groups? How do trials and triumphs show up in music? How does the nation-state participate? How does the arrival of the “teenager” in the 1950s change the big “grand expectations” narrative? Which societal concerns – black freedom struggle, counterculture movement, conservative politics, Black Lives Matter conversations, and other big movements or events, help tell the story?
This is an impressive group of students whose ideas seem advanced. It might just be that they are genuinely interested and it shows in their work in and outside of this class. (Check out an essay one of them wrote on Cam Newton). I look forward to sharing more about our progress. One aside: stay tuned for a link to the video of the January 26th race and intimacy talk at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center with New York Times best-selling author Dolen Perkins-Valdez, my colleague Trudier Harris and Wayne State University’s Liza Ze Winters. Powerful talk. Incredible audience.
Postscript: Just saw several posts on Bey’s latest, among them ones addressing credit issue. Lots to consider with necessary disclaimers. Clean version available. But that and the premiere of Spike Lee’s new doc , which recovers Michael Jackson’s transition from childhood to “Off the Wall,” has made this quite a day. So much to ponder. Linkages between Sinatra, Astaire, Sammy Davis and MJ and all of the social issues in the backdrop are there. Eddie Murphy’s take on “She’s Out of My Life” (“Tito, get me some tissue.”) still hilarious.