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History of American Popular Music

Department: Music

Instructor: Paul Roth
Instructors' Emails:
Prerequisites: none 

Course Description

This course explores the exciting and complex histories of American Popular Music of the 20th century and beyond. We begin just before 1900 with minstrelsy—the first truly American popular music form—and listen our way through the exciting sounds of ragtime, blues, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, punk, pop, metal, rap and hip-hop, EDM: all the way to standout music of 2022. Throughout we focus not only on instruments, grooves, and styles but also on the important socio-economic circumstances they emerge from and give voice to. In particular, we highlight the fundamental contributions of black American musicians to such sounds, and how black American experiences profoundly shape 20th-century American popular music generally. Students thus benefit doubly: learning more than a century’s worth of fantastic, infectious music, but also grasping the important social histories making them possible.

Course Goals / Learning Objective

By the end of this course, students will possess a thorough overview and grasp of major popular music forms throughout US history and will understand how race has informed and shaped these diverse musical practices. Here, music is positioned as both collections of sounds as well as indicative of the historical circumstances from which these sounds emerge: tying these two realms together will be central to our studies. The critical perspectives gained will benefit students tremendously as they continue in their life developments, both inside and outside the classroom.

Course Topics

  • How to listen to music
  • How to interpret art
  • Philosophy of art and perception
  • How to share ideas about art with others
  • How to build community around shared experiences and ideas

*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.