The blues, as discussed in this upper-level seminar, are seen not just as a musical style, but rather as a technique to nurture and sustain moral and cultural alternatives to dominant, white values. In many ways the blues musicians of the 1920s and 1930s (the principal focus of this course) can be viewed as preservers and purveyors of African Americans' own cultural knowledge, their own theories of social change, and their own theories of class. It is the intent of this course to provide a dialogue in which we will uncover how blues musicians manifested these cultural modes and processes within their music, for embedded in both their musical works and life stories is a process of social and ideological recreation.
The first half of the course will be dedicated to an overall survey of the history of the Blues to provide an historical base upon which to build our theoretical models. The second half of the course will be an in-depth study of Robert Johnson. Why is he considered the greatest bluesman? What does he say about myth in America? What does he say about our own relationship with our past and race? What do the various interpretations of his life reveal about us as storytellers and about our increasingly diverse culture(s)? How does myth become "contested space"? And how did he serve as perhaps the first post-modern purveyor of intersectional themes in his blues?
Assignments will include weekly journals, three reaction papers, and a final presentation.
Juniors and seniors, most likely pursuing a concentration or minor in one of the American Culture programs.
3 hours per week in lecture/discussion format.