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Race and American Popular Music

Department: Music

Instructor: Paul Roth
Instructor's Email:
Prerequisites: no prior musical experience is needed for this course!
Section ID: 157126 

Schedule: Mon. - Fri. 1:30PM - 3:30PM PST


Course Description

This course examines how race has been central to the making, listening, and understanding of popular music in the United States. We begin before the 20th century with minstrelsy—the first truly American popular music form—and proceed chronologically to explore and become familiar with a host of emerging popular music genres (including ragtime, blues, jazz, R&B, rock, punk, pop, hip-hop, EDM, and the many exciting musics of 2021).

Throughout, we will focus on the fundamental contributions of Black American musicians to many of these musical movements and cultures, taking into consideration not only their melodies, rhythms, instruments, and personalities, but also the important socio-economic circumstances they arise from and give voice (or “sound”) to. Guiding us will be the notion that musical experiences for black and white America have oftentimes existed in very different spheres and meant very different things. As such, each offer unique perspectives and understandings of American history, including that of our present moment. These 4 weeks will show us how and why. 

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

By the end of the 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.

*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.