FALL 2022: READ ME! Course Policies/FAQ for MUS 113

SUNY Broome Department of Music and Theater Arts MUS 113, Spring 2021
From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora
T/Th 2:00-3:15 PM
Office hours T 3:30-4:30 PM

Things to know:

  • All the readings are open-source and accessible from this page.
  • All the music listening assignments are embedded in the blog posts linked under the heading “On the blog,” for each class date.
  • For some units, I’ve added OPTIONAL readings/listening that you may pursue if you are interested in the topic and have the time. These readings are NOT required.
  • Some of the readings are from the New York Times. You need to subscribe to the New York Times in order to read them. Free subscriptions are available through the SUNY-Broome library. Directions for subscribing can be found on this page.
  • Most of the readings are on Google Drive. You will need to be logged on to Google to access them.
  • I can’t recommend highly enough that you keep a PAPER PLANNER and write down all your assignments and due dates in it. This course has a lot of details to stay on top of, and mapping out your work visually is a huge help. I like this Facebook group for ideas:


Important: Content+Trigger Warnings

There are a few other things to be aware of in this course:

(1) The readings assigned represent a variety of viewpoints and methods of inquiry from the past 150 years of Black music scholarship.

They do not necessarily represent my own views, those of the Music Department, or those of SUNY-Broome.

Many of these readings “argue against” each other, offering different explanations and lines of reasoning as they delve into Black music history. Please read them CLOSELY and CRITICALLY.

Keep in mind that well into the 20th century, most music scholarship on African American music was done by whites. Even where white scholars and collectors were sympathetic to the plight of Blacks in America, unconscious bias and even outright racism is present in many of their writings.

(2) The material covered in this course engages with difficult histories of suffering and oppression, including racism, slavery, segregation, sexism, homophobia, violence, transphobia, economic inequality, and other forms of social injustice. Some of the readings and assigned music will contain offensive language, including the N-word, and other historically derogatory terms for Black people. I will also be asking you to study music, texts, and images that are explicit and disturbing.

By situating these painful issues in the musical-historical context, my intent is NOT to excuse or minimize them in any way, but to help you to explore the ways that a truly great culture grew out of horrific oppression and suffering, and how that culture was eventually diffused to the entire world.

It is not an exaggeration to say that American music IS Black American music. We have to confront the fact that this great culture and music was born from the cradle of injustice.

As the credo of Afrofuturism holds: We cannot change the past. But we CAN change the future.

If your experience of these issues, or the way they are presented in this course, is problematic or triggering in any way, please speak to me about it. I take such concerns seriously, and I strive to find better ways of addressing painful, challenging, and complex topics in the classroom.

(3) Historically, the language by which both Black and white Americans have referred to Black Americans has changed over time. You will find 19th- and early-20th-century sources using terms like “colored,” and mid-20th-century sources using “Negro” (keep in mind that, in their own time, these terms were by no means slurs, but actually considered respectful, especially “Negro” with a capital N). The term “Black” superseded “Negro” in the mid-1960s. You will also see the N-word used by Blacks in 19th- and 20th-century sources, as well as in rap starting in the late 1970s up to the present day. For more, see the article “Negro, the Word: A Brief History” from the African-American Registry, and the essay “I Can’t Brook the Idea of Banning ‘Negro,'” by the always-compelling John McWhorter.

When I created this course in 2018, “Black” was generally spelled with a lower-case b. Since the international protests inspired by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, however, usage has changed to reflect awareness of Blackness as an ethnicity, not just a description of skin color, and Black is now generally capitalized. Although I revise the materials for this course regularly, I may not have gotten around to replacing all the lower-case b’s with upper-case B’s in my writings for this class by the time you read this.

For more on this topic, read the New York Times‘s explanation of the stylistic change from lower-case b to upper-case B (it references someone you’re going to hear a lot more about in the next few weeks, W.E.B. Du Bois, the great Black sociologist), and then read this essay by a Black Englishwoman pushing back against it.

That said, you will encounter offensive terms for (and attitudes towards) Black people in some of your readings and listenings for this course. As the writer David Wondrich wrote in his preface to the book Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924:

The language is offensive . . . I do not use [those words] in my private life . . . but neither will I shy from them when necessary. They’re not my words. To let them scare us off from understanding our history, from experiencing it in all its awfulness and beauty, is to grant them far too much power.

(4) It is impossible to cover the entire history of Black music in America, from the 16th century to the present day, in one semester. Some things will be left out.

In order to cover as much ground as possible, however, it’s essential that you ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE in your learning. Many of the assigned readings cover the historical background and context of the music, so that we can focus on the music itself in our class discussions. DO THE READING. If you skip out on this essential step, you will have a difficult time understanding Black music and its history.

This course goes fast. Stay on top of the reading, writing, and discussions, because we won’t have time to repeat material that’s already been covered.

Remember: It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.

A Note On Office Hours

Office hours are the scheduled time set aside every week, outside of class, to discuss any issues you’re having pertaining to this course. These issues may include, but are not limited to:

  • Clarification of topics related to class discussion or reading materials
  • Following up on anything that stood out for you in class
  • Exploring topics that interest you
  • Asking for extra help
  • Discussing your progress on class projects
  • Your personal health
  • Any life situations
  • Questions about grading
  • Connecting to resources across campus or locally

These are all topics to be brought up during office hours. I do not require you to attend office hours. I expect you to evaluate for yourself whether or not to come. However, I have set aside that time in my office each week for you and whatever questions you may have. If scheduled office hours are not convenient for you, please contact me via email at mailto:oconnelljr@sunybroomto make another time.

Please note, however: email and Discord are NOT substitutes for office hours. All of the above issues are issues that need to be discussed with me face to face. I am accessible by email and Discord, but I cannot address the issues on those platforms that should be brought up during

Course Policies/FAQ

  1. What is MUS 113, From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora?

    This course is an introduction to the history of the music of the African diaspora to North America.  It is designed to introduce students to tools for critical listening and concepts for study, applied to the rich and multifaceted musical cultures of Black Americans.  We will examine the contributions of musicians of African descent to western art music as interpreters and creators, as well as to the genres of ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, soul, R&B, disco, hip-hop and rap.  We will focus on the musical forms, content, and styles of these repertoires, and locate them in their historical, political, and cultural contexts.

2. How does this class work?

This course is based on reading, writing, listening, discussion, and applying your knowledge in a creative group project (more on this below).

There are no quizzes or tests. Instead, you will be asked to demonstrate your mastery of the subject matter through your participation in class discussions and your final project.

Our coursework will also include:

  • Class lectures
  • Reading, note-taking, and listening done in class and on your own. All readings are linked on the syllabus, and all listenings are in the blog posts linked on the syllabus.
  • Your short written answers to the daily class question. At the start of every class I will be putting a question related to that day’s reading on the whiteboard. The first few minutes of every cl

3. Reading Journals

You are required to keep a Reading Journal for this class. How it works:

  • Choose one of the assigned readings for the week.
  • Open this Google Doc and make a copy.
  • Follow the directions in the Google Doc (paraphrases/quotes on the left, your thoughts on the right).
  • Submit to me every Wednesday by 11:59 PM, starting September 7, via email at oconnelljr@sunybroome.edu. In the subject line, put:
  • If you prefer to write your Reading Log longhand, you may do so, and send me photos.

3. How do you grade creative work?

This is my grading rubric for your creative work this semester (picture book project).


4. What if I find the course content triggering, disturbing, or upsetting?

You are not alone.

Material covered in this course engages with historical racism, the legacy of slavery and discrimination, violence, sexism, religious intolerance, economic privilege, homophobia, and other forms of social injustice. I will ask you to study music, texts, and images that are explicit and disturbing. By situating these painful issues in the musical-historical context, my intent is to highlight the harm they have caused in the past and continue to cause today, NOT to excuse or minimize them.

If your experience of these issues or the way they are treated in this course is problematic or triggering in any way, please speak to me (either in class or in private)—I take such concerns seriously, and, while it is crucially important that we reckon with our history, I always strive to find better ways of addressing challenging and complex topics in the classroom.

5. What are the Learning Outcomes for this class?

Upon successful completion of this course you, the student, will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the significant time periods in African-American music history, from its earliest days to present.
  2. Identify and describe the various genres, performers, and creators of African-American music.
  3. Define the musical structures and forms of popular musical styles pioneered by black musicians and composers.
  4. Distinguish the characteristics of Black music across genres.
  5. Communicate about, reflect upon, and reason about the contributions to national and international culture made by diverse Americans.

6. How do I earn a good grade in this course?

a) Come to class.

It’s impossible to overemphasize this. We will be covering a lot of material in every class. It is simply unrealistic to expect to be able to keep up with the material if you do not come to class.

Attendance is not only necessary for your success; it is also linked to your financial aid. If you do not attend class, you will be administratively withdrawn from the course (WA). You will then lose your financial aid, and be stuck with a VERY LARGE bill.

I have no control over the administrative processes of the Registrar and Financial Aid offices. If you do not attend classes, the Registrar will automatically withdraw you from the course.

Beyond these policies, however, it is so important for you to come to class so that you can work with your classmates to form a community of scholars. What youdo in this class has an impact on you, your life, your relationships, and the world around you. Your work in this class has the potential to be transformative. Don’t minimize your own ability to change yourself and the world by missing class, where you gain the knowledge that gives you the tools you need!

My policy is that you may miss three classes without consequence. If you miss four or more classes, we need to talk. For real. We need to talk in person. I will not necessarily reduce your letter grade for absences, but chronic absence will obviously lead to a reduced grade in your participation in discussion (heavily weighted!) and the final project (heavily weighted!) Think carefully about your choices. If you are absent for 25% of classes (which this semester equals roughly 7 classes), you can reasonably expect to fail the course, since it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to keep up with the work and make up missing assignments. Keep in mind that it won’t be me who fails you; you will be failing yourself.

b) Come to class on time.

If you are late, you miss vital material, and you disrupt your classmates’ and instructor’s attention. If you have more than four late arrivals to class (that is, arriving later than five minutes after the start of class), they will count as one absence. If you arrive in class more than 20 minutes late, it will be counted as an unexcused absence.

c) Comport yourself in a scholarly manner.

In addition to coming to every class, and coming on time, conducting yourself as a scholar includes coming prepared to participate in class discussions.

It also means that you do not use your phone in this class unless it relates to class work. Phones must be put away at the beginning of class. If you are a parent or caregiver, I will make an exception.

Do the assignments on time and with your best efforts. Pay attention in class. Keep phones turned off unless you are a caregiver or parent. Treat your classmates and your instructor with respect. If you disagree with me or with other students, disagree respectfully; it will make others more likely to listen to you and take you seriously. Take notes.

Please note that a failure to conduct yourself in a scholarly manner in this class in the ways described above will have a negative impact on your final grade.

d) Do the assigned reading and listening for every class date on the syllabus BEFORE that class date.

This will prepare you to participate in class discussions, which make up 30% of your grade.

A brief overview of how to do the reading:

  1. Read all assigned materials for that date – not just once. Skim for major points, read again closely, look up unfamiliar words, read as much of the linked material as possible, take notes, and reflect on the reading.
  2. Refer to notes you’ve taken in class over the course of the semester to make sure you’re correctly understanding as many concepts as possible. Read additional sources as necessary to ensure that you know what you’re talking about with this topic.
  3. Prepare thoughts, questions, and ideas that you have about the reading and listening assignments. Draw upon your other educational experiences, life experiences, or other expertise. Make use of any brainstorming methods you’ve come across in other classes.

In class discussions, strive to add your own ideas, respond to other students, ask provocative questions.

For more detailed recommendations on how to do the reading, listening, and writing assignments, be sure to read this post.

e) Outside of class, do the assignments.

Do the scheduled reading, listening, and creative work assignments. Review your notes from class. Think about what you’re reading and hearing. Use the written assignments and tests to demonstrate your proficiency in the subject. Confer with the classmates in your final project team to work as a group on the final project.

7. What should I do if I miss a class?

As I noted above: You may miss up to three (3) classes without questions asked. If you miss more than three classes, your grade will be lowered by five points for each subsequent class missed. If you miss four or more classes, the college may administratively withdraw you from the course (WA), in which case you will lose your financial aid.

If you miss a class, YOU are responsible for learning any material that you miss. This means that, if you miss a class for any reason, you need to get the missed notes and assignments from a classmate, NOT from me. I do not have time to re-teach you the material that you missed, so, if you miss class for any reason, please, DO NOT ask me what you missed.

Don’t be like Thomas Jefferson. In short, take responsibility for your own choices and actions.

That said: if you know you are going to miss a class, get in touch with me right away via email or Discord to let me know.

If you don’t know in advance that you are going to miss a class, but you do, get in touch with me as soon as possible. Doing these things will help your grade.

If there are ongoing reasons why you may be having trouble attending class, please come talk to me during office hours.

8. Lady, why are you so uptight about attendance?

In addition to all the above? Okay, here goes:

When you enroll in a course, you become a MEMBER of the class. In other words, you become a vital part of a group that has, by its own choice, dedicated itself to scholarly inquiry.

In this learning community, students build their critical thinking skills through many means, including class discussion. If you are absent, this will be much more difficult not only for you, but also for your fellow students. If you are absent, you are missing out on the crucial building blocks of our discussions for subsequent classes. Therefore, every absence will put you further behind.

In this class, students work together to create an intellectual community in the classroom. If you are absent, the learning environment is degraded for everyone. You learn as much from your peers as you do from the instructor, and frequent absences diminish everyone’s experience.

When you miss class, whether the reason for your absence is excusable or not, you are missing out on the opportunity to gain knowledge above and beyond reading, listening, and writing assignments.  Of course it is possible to gain that knowledge in alternative ways or with additional effort, but if you are skipping class, you are clearly demonstrating that you are unwilling or unable to put in that additional effort.

Missing class also sends a clear message to your instructor, as well as to your classmates, that the class is not important enough for you to arrange your life to make it possible for you show up. Chronic lateness sends a similar message – that it’s not important enough for you to show up on time, and that you place a low value on the material and discussions you are missing.

Do not expect to pass this course if you are chronically absent, chronically late, or fail to turn in work.

9. How do you grade?

Your final grade will assess your mastery of the class material and subject, based upon:

  • Class discussion: 30%*
  • Other work and assignments (in-class writing, etc.): 15%**
  • Final project: 45%
  • Scholarly comportment, including attendance: 10%

You will notice that your final project is heavily weighted. You will also notice the absence of tests, exams, and papers.

Please DO NOT take this as license to slack. When you click on the Final Project link (LINK), you will see that the work begins NOW, and is consistent for the entire semester. In short, you will need to manage your time and pace yourself, because you will be working on this project every week throughout the semester.

* If it is difficult for you to participate in class discussions for any reason, please let me know. I have an alternate method of assessing this component which requires you to submit a question to me based on the class readings.
**If it is difficult for you to write, you may record your thoughts and send to me as sound files; see above.

Class and College Policies and Other General Issues

Academic Honesty: A Note on Plagiarism

All students are expected to uphold the principles of academic honesty. Academic dishonesty (e.g., cheating, copying, and plagiarism) will not be tolerated. Plagiarism is presenting the ideas and writings of another person as your own. Plagiarism is stealing. The penalty for plagiarism or any other type of cheating will be failure of either the assignment or the class.

If this happens to you, you will be placed on academic probation and will lose your financial aid. Repeat offenders may be dismissed from SUNY-Broome with a permanent mark on their academic records, which will make it impossible to transfer to any other college.

Do not underestimate the seriousness of plagiarism.  It is one of the worst possible things you can do as a student, and is a total violation of your relationship to your classmates, your professor, and your college.

In short:  your assignments MUST be the product of your own thoughts and efforts.  If you ever are in doubt about what might constitute plagiarism, please ask me before taking a risk that could ruin your academic career. For more on SUNY-Broome’s policies on academic honesty, see http://www.sunybroome.edu/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=142779&folderId=142906&name=DLFE-762.pdf.

Students With Disabilities

Any student who has a need for accommodations because of the impact of a disability should talk to me privately, and also visit the Disability Services Office in room L-209A on the second floor of the library or call them at 607-778-5150. SUNY-Broome is committed to the success of all students, and I will make every effort to meet your needs.

Other Student Support Services

If you are struggling in this class or any other classes for ANY reason, contact Student Support Services in room L-017 in the library, or call them at 607-778-5150. Student Support Services offers many supports for students struggling for ANY reason. Some students may be eligible for TRiO Student Support Services, a federally funded program designed to support students who are first-generation, low-income, and/or disabled.

If You Have Any Questions or Problems, or If You Are Struggling

Talk to me. I want you to succeed, and I will do what I can to help. If you have any questions, comments, problems, issues, doubts, or suggestions at all, please come see me during office hours, or, if my office hours conflict with your schedule, make an appointment to see me at another time. Your professors make themselves available to assist you in the ways that they can; it is your responsibility to take them up on it by reaching out.


This page constitutes a contract between you and me.

If you have read it and have decided to remain in my class, I will understand your continued presence to mean that you agree to its terms, and that you will abide by them.

Please read this page often, because it contains answers to many commonly-asked questions that will come up during this course.

If you have any questions that are NOT answered here, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

Have a great semester! You are going to crush it!