Get in Formation: Black Protest Music

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Get in Formation: Black Protest Music
Fall 2017
Macalester College

Course Description

Throughout African American history, people of African descent in the United States have always utilized the tools at their disposal to resist oppression. This includes music. Music heals, empowers, and exposes–joy, pain, love, anger, happiness, suffering and hope. Using a black feminist, intersectional lens, this course is a topical introduction to various traditions within African American music from the enslavement period until the present.  Not meant to be exhaustive, the course will examine the connections between music and major turning points in African American social, cultural, and political history.  The course also pays special attention to the ways in which race, class, gender, and sexuality impact the creation, interpretation, performance, and reception of African American protest music.

Course Objectives

  • Students will learn about existing scholarship on African American music, resistance, and protest and engage with this scholarship in preparing an argument.
  • Students will consider the ways that contingency and context shaped the way historical actors thought and acted in the past and appraise the past on its own terms.
  • Students will interpret music and connect it to its appropriate context.
  • Students will effectively communicate ideas in verbal and written form.

Required Course Texts

Course Assignments

  • Attendance/Participation (15%)
    • Quality participation in Discussion
    • Friday Jam Juke and Jab Sessions
      • 3 students pick a song from week’s playlist and connect it to the week’s readings/discussions (Fridays, students sign up in advance)
  • Semester Listening and Reaction Journal (20%)
  • Exams (2, in-class 40%)
  • Black Protest Music Playlist and Liner Notes (25%)

Schedule of Topics and Readings

Unit 0:
Interrogating “Black Protest Music”: Theoretical Foundations 
Unit Description:  In this introductory unit, we will examine the potential meanings of “Black Protest Music.”  What characterizes black protest music? What recurring themes emerge? How does race, class, gender, and sexuality figure into these understandings? What is the relationship/interplay between music and activism?

Week 1

  • September 6: Course Introductions
  • September 8: Interrogating “Black Protest Music”: Theoretical Foundations
    • (1) “Narrating Black Music’s Past,” Radano (CP)
    • (2) “On Ownership and Value,” Radano, (CP)
    • (3) “Education, Liberation: Learning the Ropes of a Musical Blackness” Gaunt (CP)
    • (Journal Entry 1)

Week 2

  • September 11: Interrogating “Black Protest Music”: Theoretical Foundations
    • (4) “Listening Otherwise, Music Miniaturized: A Different Type of Question About Revolution” Chow, (CP)
  • September 13: Interrogating “Black Protest Music”: Theoretical Foundations
    • (5) “Bringing Wreck: Theorizing Race, Rap, Gender, and the Public Sphere,” Pough (CP)
    • (6) “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie (CP)
    • (7) “A Revolution of Values,” hooks (CP)

Unit 1:
Get on Board, Children, Get on Board De Gospel Train: Religion, Spirituality, and Music from Slavery to Freedom (1860s-1900s)
Unit Description:  This unit examines the musical traditions that came out of African Americans experiences during the enslavement period.  Because music has been inextricably linked to faith and spirituality, this units takes as its central question: what function did music play for African Americans during this period? The unit will explore the African American religious tradition, spirituals and famous groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the McIntosh County Shouters, and others. 

  • September 15: Rhythmic Complexity: Linking Africa and African-American Musical Traditions
    • AAM, Chapter 1: The Translated African and Cultural and Musical Past, Mautlsby
    • (Journal Entry 2)

Week 3

  • September 18: The Soundtrack of Everyday Black Life in Antebellum America
    • AAM, Chapter 3: Secular Folk Music, Epstein and Sands
  • September 20: To Sing the Spiritual Was to Be Free: Black Sacred Musical Traditions
    • AAM, Chapter 4: Spirituals, Burnim
  • September 22: Jam Juke and Jab Session 1 (Playlist)
    • (Journal Entry 3)

Week 4

Unit 2:
Black Music in Jim Crow America (1900s-1950s)

Unit Description:  This unit covers iterations of black protest music during the rise and maintenance of Jim Crow.  The unit highlights the response of African Americans to what has been considered the “nadir” period in African American history.  Covering the Jazz, Blues, and Gospel traditions, this unit will uncover the ways these genres illuminate everyday  African American life. 

  • September 25: Hearing and Singing Freedom: The Role of Anthems in the Black Freedom Struggle
    • Anthem, Redmond: Introduction, Chapter 1 & 2
  • September 27: Discordant Notes and Jazzy Syncopations: Lessons About Protest
    • AAM, Chapter 9: Jazz, Monson
    • (8) Jazz Impulse, Werner (CP)
    • (9) “Black Women Jazz and Feminism,” Williams (CP)
  • September 28: REQUIRED Evening Lecture: Dr. Shana Redmond
    • 7PM, JBD
  • September 29: Guest presentation: Dr. Shana Redmond (In- Class)
  • (Journal Entry 4)

Week 5

  • October 2: The Blues Tradition
    • AAM, Chapter 7: Blues, Evans
    • (10) Blues Impulse, Werner (CP)
    • (11) “The Blues Tradition of Explanation,” Woods (CP)
  • October 4: The Gospel Impulse
    • AAM, Chapter 10: Gospel, Burnim
    • (12) Gospel Impulse, Werner (CP)
    • (13) “`Have a Little Talk’: Listening to the B-side of History,” Wald (CP)
    • In Class Viewing: Too Close to Heaven: The History of Gospel Music
  • October 6: Jam Juke and Jab Session 2
    • (Journal Entry 5)

Week 6

Unit 3:
Say It Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud: Black Music for Revolutionary Moments (1960s-1970s)

Unit Description: This unit tackles the social and cultural response to Jim Crow that emerged during the heyday of the mid-century Black Freedom Struggle.  This unit encompasses the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements (and the Black Arts Movement).  It examines civil rights/black power activists’ use of music during protests and demonstrations while also considering the ways in which struggles for Black Freedom influenced black music during this period. 

  • October 9: Love as Resistance: R&B in a Time of Torment
    • AAM, Chapter 12: Rhythm and Blues/R&B, Maultsby
  • October 11: People Get Ready: The Soul of a Movement
    • AAM, Chapter 13: Soul, Maultsby
  • October 13: Jam Juke and Jab Session 3
    • (Journal Entry 6)

Week 7

  • October 16: The Global Sound of Civil Rights: Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone
    • (14) “I Don’t Trust You Anymore”: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s,” Feldstein (CP)
  • October 18: Women’s Work: Gender, Music and Civil Rights  
    • Anthem, Redmond: Chapter 4
  • October 19: Angela Davis Lecture
    • 7pm, Kagin Ballroom
    • (Required Attendance)
  • October 20: Jam Juke and Jab Session 4
    • Exam 1 Review
    • (Journal 7)

Week 8

  • October 23: To Be Young Gifted and Black: Consciousness Raising and Civil Rights
    • Anthem, Redmond: Chapter 5
  • October 25: Exam 1
  • October 27 (No class—Fall Break)
    • View out of class: BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (Kanopy Streaming Service)
    • (Journal Entry 8)
  • Midterm Playlist 

Week 9

  • October 30: Remembering Sweet Honey in the Rock
    • (15) “Rock Solid,” Hopkinson (CP)
    • In Class viewing: Bernice Johnson Reagon and African American Music

Unit 4:
U.N.I.T.Y.: Black Music During the “War on Drugs” and the Rise of Mass Incarceration (1980s-2000s)
Unit Description: This unit highlights African American musicians’ response to 1980s conservatism and black urban life in the 1990s/early 2000s.  A conservatism that resulted in/coincided with decreased opportunities and resources for people of color in urban communities, the Crack epidemic, and the rise of mass incarceration.  During this period, hip hop emerged, a fierce Afrocentrism reasserted itself, and African Americans tried to figure out solutions to the problems that plagued black communities during this period.

  • November 1: Hip Hop—the Voice of the “Inner City”
    • (16) Break Beats in the Bronx: Hip Hop’s Early Years (Excerpts), Ewoodzie, (CP)
    • AAM, Chapter 17: Hip-Hop and Rap, Norfleet
  • November 3: Jam Juke and Jab Session 5
    • (17) “Hip Hop’s Founding Fathers Speak the Truth,” George (CP)
    • (Journal Entry 9)

Week 10

  • November 6: The History of Hip Hop Feminism
    • (18) “I’ll Be Nina Simone: Defecating on Your Microphone: Hip Hop and Gender,” Neal (CP)
    • (19) “Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Space,” Keyes (CP)
    • (20)”Hip Hop Feminist, Morgan/“Seeds and Legacies,” Pough, (CP
    • (21)“Never Trust a Big Butt and a Smile,” Rose (CP)
  • November 8: Now, What’s the Message? Rethinking Rap and Resistance
    • (22) “The Message: Rap, Politics, and Resistance,” Neal, et al (CP)
    • (23) “Organizing the Hip Hop Generation,” Ards
    • (24) “The Challenge of Rap Music: from Cultural Movement to Political Power,” Kitwana (CP)
    • (25) “Rap, Race, and Politics,” Lusane (CP)
    • In Class Viewing—Blacking Up: Hip Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity (Kanopy)
  • November 10: Jam Juke and Jab Session 6
    • (Journal Entry 10)

Week 11

  • November 13: Prince as an Intersectional Bridge
    • (26) “The Purple Prince,” Whiteneir (CP)
    • (27) “Towards an Epistemology of Prince,” Ramos (CP)

Unit 5:
We Should All Be Feminists?: Intersectionality and 21st Century Black Protest Music
Unit Description: The unit wraps up the course by considering the role of music in 21st century black protests movements. The focus will be on the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement, and this unit will examine the movement with an intersectional lens.  While everyday black folks have criticized the movement for its hyper focus on black men, does 21st century black protest music offer possibilities for the existence of a more inclusive and intersectional movement?

  • November 15: Crunk Commandments for Black Protest Music?
    • (28) “Or a Real, Real Bad Lesbian: Nicki Minaj and the Acknowledgement of Queer Desire in Hip Hop Culture,” Smith (CP)
    • (29) “For White Girls Only?: Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion,” Butler (CP)
    • (30) “Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto,” CFC (CP)
    • (31) “Ten Crunk Commandments for Reinvigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies,” CFC, (CP)
    • (32) “Intro,” and “Nicki’s World” CFC (CP)
  • November 17: No class—Prof. Moten away at a conference.
    • (Journal 11)

Week 12

  • November 20: Expressing Black Rage in the Public Sphere
    • (33)“Strange Sampling: Nina Simone and her Hip Hop Children,” Tillet (CP)
    • (34) “Black Rage: On Cultivating National Belonging,” Colbert (CP)
  • November 22 & 24: No class—Thanksgiving

Week 13

  • November 27: Historical/Musical Remembering as Social Activism?
    • (35) “The Performer as Historian: Black Messiah, To Pimp a Butterfly, and the Matter of Albums,” Fulton (CP)
    • (36) “Social Activism in Popular Culture,” Davidson (CP)
  • November 29: Bey-Day 1
    • (37) “Disrepectability Politics: On Jay Z’s Bitch, Beyonce’s “Fly Ass” and Black Girl Blue,” CFC (CP)
    • (38) “On bell, Beyonce and Bullshit,” CFC (CP)
    • (39) “Five Reasons I’m Here for Beyonce the Feminist,” CFC (CP)
    • (40) “Empowered or Objectified? Personal Narrative and Audiovisual Aesthetics in Beyoncé’s Partition,” Hansen (CP)
  • December 1: Bey-Day 2
    • (41) “A Call and Response with Melissa Harris Perry on the Power of Lemonade” Harris-Perry (CP)
    • (42) “Close to Home: A Conversation about Beyonce’s Lemonade” Bradley, Hampton (CP)
    • (43) “How Jay-Z’s 4:44 and Beyonce’s Lemonade Define Black Love, Fame” Spanos (Moodlde)
    • (44) “Lemonade Syllabus,” Benbow (CP)
    • 4:44 Syllabus,” Boynton
    • (Journal Entry 12)
    • In class viewing: Lemonade

Week 14

  • December 4: Afro-Futuristic Possibilities
    • (45) “Robo-Diva R&B”: Aesthetics, Politics, and Black Female Robots in Contemporary Popular Music,” James (CP)
    • December 6: Jam Juke and Jab Session 7
    • December 8: Exam 2

Week 15


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