From Spirituals to Hip Hop (MUS 113) Syllabus, Fall 2022: Schedule of Reading/Listening Assignments

For explanations, instructions, and course policies, see READ ME! INSTRUCTIONS AND FAQ FOR MUS 113

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

This is the fall 2022 schedule of classes, readings, and assignments. For course policies, including grading policies and breakdown, go here.

The readings are subject to change, and if you take a look at it every day there will be no surprises.


It DOES USE a Discord server for communication. I will send an invite to the Discord using your email address. It is A REQUIREMENT that you join the class Discord server.

If you need a paper copy of this syllabus, or paper copies of any of the readings, please ask. I will be happy to provide them.

Schedule of Assigned Reading, Listening, Writing, and Other Projects

How to use this syllabus:

  1. Read it every day!
  2. Prepare the reading and listening assignments on your own, before each class date listed. The dates mean the date BEFORE WHICH you need to have the reading/listening done!
  3. You can access the readings directly from the links under each class date. The “On the blog” links will direct you to posts on this blog, where you will find all the listening examples. For these blog posts, you are expected to read as much as possible of the linked content, and listen to as much as possible of the linked/embedded audio and video.
  4. This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the reading and other coursework. Read it!
  5. This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the listening. Read it!
  6. Take notes on the reading, listening, and class discussions. Re-read your notes every evening.

We have a lot of material to get through, so we may not cover everything listed in the syllabus.

Before we begin, a little message to you. (Not safe for work, not safe for kids/younger siblings. 100% true. Watch it often.)

August 30: First class: Defining our terms, syllabus explained, what to expect
We will be thinking about the questions:

  • What is Black music?
  • On a more fundamental level, what is Blackness?
  • What is “race”? Who defines what race is? Who defines what culture is?
  • Are there a limited number of recognized/accepted ways that one may express one’s race and/or culture? Or are the ways that people of a given group may engage in cultural expression infinite?
  • What does it mean to be an American (of any color)?

Keep these questions close. They will be the basis for everything we study this semester!

September 1: What is race? What is identity? Who are we? How do we talk about it?
“I Am An American,” Sheena Mason and Donna Druchunas
“Passing for Black? Another Perspective,” Julius Lester
“They Look White But Say They’re Black,” Khushbu Shah

On the blog:

September 6: Roots/Folk/Americana Music
“Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means,” John Jeremiah Sullivan
“How Black Women Reclaimed Country and Americana Music in 2021,” Andrea Williams, Marcus Dowling, Jewly Wright

On Juneteenth 2022, local radio host Crystal Sarakas broadcast an episode of her excellent show, Free-Range Folk, featuring Black artists working in folk, roots, and Americana music. Listen to it at the link below. Your in-class writing on September 8 will be related to the music in this episode.

On the blog:

“Why Rappers Rock the Confederate Flag: From Outkast to Kanye West’s Merchandise,” Stereo Williams
“Cowboy Blues: Early Black Music in the West,” Patrick Joseph O’Connor
“Meet Tray Wellington, The Black Bluegrass Banjoist Breaking Barriers in Appalachian Mountain Music,” Alexis D. Wray

Sept. 8: From Africa to the New World
FIRST READING LOG DUE TOMORROW, FRIDAY SEPT 9, on article “The Cazenovia Convention,” by Stanley Harrold (see your Final Project Page)

For class, read:
“Some Fundamentals of African Music,” Peter van der Merwe
“Griot’s Battle Song,” Corey Highberg

Browse “Musical Passage”: A website dedicated to the earliest known pieces of African music in the Americas. The pieces were transcribed in a 1707 book called Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, St. Christophers, and Jamaica, known as the “Hans Sloane Document.” Hans Sloane was a British naturalist who went to Jamaica in 1687 as physician to the British governor of Jamaica. He included several West African songs, which he heard enslaved musicians play on his trip, in his book (it is thought that the music was transcribed for him by an enslaved man who had been trained in Western music notation).

On the blog:

West and East African Songs (musical transcriptions for those who read music)
Watch this short film of a concert by Spanish viol player Jordi Savall and his ensemble, Hesperion XX. Their project, Les Routes d’Esclavages (Routes of Slavery), is a musical history of the music encountered along the routes of the slave trade, from Spain to North Africa to West Africa to the New World.

Sept. 13: Musics of Enslaved Peoples in the New World
“Through the Prism of Folklore: The Black Ethos in Slavery,” Sterling Stuckey. This is a pioneering essay by a Black historian about the culture created by enslaved people, which allowed them to “free themselves” within the institution of slavery. Keep what Stuckey says in mind as we go forward through the semester and explore the ways that Black music is a place of joy and healing amidst violence.

Musical transcriptions:
“My Father How Long?” (from Slave Songs of the United States, 1867)
“Follow the Drinking Gourd/Run, N—-, Run” (collected by Alan Lomax)

On the blog:

Sept. 15: Spirituals
Reading Log on “The Truth About Black Freedom” (Daina Ramey Berry) due tomorrow.

[Note: Because of changing views about the word “Negro,” spirituals are now generally called “African American Spirituals” or just “spirituals.” However, some scholars insist that the correct term is still “Negro Spirituals.” Dr. Alisha Jones, one of the world’s leading authorities on Black sacred music, explains in the tweet below.]

Read: “Upon This Rock: The Foundational Influence of the Spirituals,” Arthur C. Jones

Watch: “The Ringshout and the Birth of African-American Religion”:

On the blog:

Musical transcriptions:
“Job” (folk spiritual collected in Alabama, 1930s)
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (sheet music published in a 1900 anthology for home music-making — read the intro!)
Musical examples from The Story of the Jubilee Singers with Their Songs, J.B.T. Marsh (1882). (These are on p. 146-288. Don’t freak out when you see 294 pp!)

Sept. 20: Spirituals in the Post-Bellum Era/Class Meets in the Library Classroom Today!

Portrait of the Fisk Jubilee Singers commissioned by Queen Victoria after hearing them sing, 1873

The Gift of Black Folk excerpt: “The American Folk Song W.E.B. Du Bois
“These Young Singers Still Carry the Torch of Black Freedom,” Margaret Renkl

We will be watching Walk Together Children in class, a documentary about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Trailer here:

On the blog:

“Imagine a Bible with No Moses, No Story of the Exodus,” Sharon Brous (about the “Slave Bible”)

Watch No Cowards In Our Band, a musical drama by Anthony Knight that uses spirituals as a backdrop for the words of Frederick Douglass (performed by Syracuse Opera in 2021)

Sept. 22: Minstrelsy in Black and White
(TW/CW: Minstrelsy is a primary source and continuing location of some of the most offensive visual and sonic tropes of American racism. Please be advised that in this unit, you will see and hear many offensive and disturbing images and offensive language.)

Reading Log on Songs of Slavery and Emancipation due tomorrow.

Read What is Blackface?, p. 19-34 and 98-112, Ayanna Thompson
“A Brief Guide to 21st-Century Blackface,” Aisha Harris

On the blog:

“What I See in the Latest Blackface ‘Scandal,'” John McWhorter

Sept. 27: Minstrelsy in Modern Contexts

“Before it Goes Away: Performance and Reclamation of Songs from Blackface Minstrelsy,” Sheryl Kaskowitz
“Soprano Withdraws from Opera, Citing Blackface in Netrebko’s Aida,” Javier C. Hernández

On the blog:

We will be watching this lecture-recital on the music and visual culture of minstrelsy in class, given by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, recorded on June 18, 2020.

Sept. 29: Secular Folk Song: The Blues

Bessie Smith (Charles White, 1950)

Read: Stomping the Blues, Albert Murray (excerpt)

Listen to the following songs:

Can you detect any similarities between the west African songs and the blues song? Think about what the rhythm, melody, voices, and instruments sound like.

On the blog:

Oct. 4: The Cultural Forces that Birthed the Blues
“The Blues: A Secular Spiritual,” James Cone
Letter to the Chicago Defender, May 13, 1917
Twitter thread by Louis Hyman:

On the blog:

October 6: Blueswomen
“The Ballad of Geeshee and Elvie: On the Trail of the Phantom Women Who Changed American Music and Then Vanished Without a Trace,” John Jeremiah Sullivan
This is a long article with embedded listening examples. Read and listen to all of it!
“A Song That Changed Music Forever,” David Hajdu

On the blog:

Optional: “We Need A Second Great Migration,” Charles M. Blow


October 13: Ragtime/Class Meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Library: Librarians will be available to help!
“Ragtime,” Guy Waterman
“A Pianist Strolls Her Harlem History, and Scott Joplin’s,” Seth Colter Walls

On the blog:

Oct. 18: Black Performers in Classical Music Traditions:
Listen to Episode #51, “As White As Classical,” from the podcast How Music Does That

“Black Voices, German Song,” Adam Kirsch
“Roland Hayes: Expressor of the Soul in Song,” Marva Griffin Carter

On the blog:

A fascinating lecture-recital on the music of Ignatius Sancho, the first Black composer to publish original music compositions in England.

Oct. 20:
“Singing Against the Grain: Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter Era,” Kira Thurman
“Home,” Langston Hughes

On the blog:

Watch (in class): When I Rise, a documentary film about opera singer Barbara Smith Conrad, my beloved voice teacher.

Oct. 25: Black Composers in Classical Music Traditions
Read: “Lifting the Cone of Silence From Black Composers,” George E. Lewis (listen to audio clips!)
“Florence Price was One of the Greatest Composers of the 20th Century. Until Recently, She was Overlooked,” Arionne Nettles (you can read or listen to this article on the website)
Read the website of The Black String Triage Ensemble, based in Milwaukee.

On the blog:

“Opera Can No Longer Ignore Its Race Problem,” Joshua Barone
“The Women Behind the First Black Music Magazine,” Ashawnta Jackson

Oct. 27: Black Sacred Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries//Class Meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Library: Librarians will be available to help!
“Ancient African Religion Finds Roots in America,” Christopher Johnson
“Shared Possessions: Black Pentecostals, Afro-Caribbeans, and Sacred Music,” Teresa L. Reed
Great Twitter thread on different regional and denominational gospel styles (a couple of spirituals in the mix too):

Chloe Valdary on Beyoncé and the Divine Feminine:

Watch a performance of Alvin Ailey’s 1960 ballet “Revelations,” which uses both spirituals and gospel to narrate the story of Black American Christianity. How are the spirituals and gospel sections different?

On the blog:

Optional: Photos of botánicas in Brooklyn: “Third Avenue Series: Mystic Essentials of Brooklyn,” Larry Racioppo

Nov. 1: The Harlem Renaissance
“History of a Song: Underneath the Harlem Moon,” Harlem World magazine
“Harlem, Billy Strayhorn, Ethel Waters . . . and Me,” Steven Blier

On the blog:

Optional: “Gladys Bentley: A Gender-Bending Blues Performer Who Became Harlem Royalty,” Giovanni Russonello

Nov. 3: Jazz Beginnings/Class Meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Library: Librarians will be available to help!
Ten Basic Elements of Jazz, Langston Hughes
Primary source readings (all very short, I combined them into a single document):
“Sidney Bechet’s Musical Philosophy,” Sidney Bechet
“Whence Comes Jass?” Walter Kingsley
“The Location of ‘Jass,’” New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A ‘Serious’ Musician Takes Jazz Seriously,” Ernest Ansermet
“A Negro Explains ‘Jazz,’” James Reese Europe
“Jazzing Away Prejudice,” Chicago Defender
“The ‘Inventor of Jazz,’” Jelly Roll Morton

On the blog:

Optional: “Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball,” Nick Douglas. An investigation of the plaçage system in Louisiana, which allowed white men and free women of color to marry, despite the laws against intermarriage.

We will be watching episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz in class:

Nov. 8: Jazz in the 1930s and 1940s
“Souvenir of the Lost World of the New York Jazz Club,” Sean Wilentz
“Duke Ellington Explains Swing”
“Give Duke Ellington the 1965 Pulitzer Prize,” John McWhorter

On the blog:

Watch the short 1929 film “Black and Tan Fantasy,” featuring Duke Ellington and his music:

Watch a live performance of Ellington’s extended concert work Black, Brown, and Beige (1943). Is it jazz? Is it classical? Is it protest music? What was Ellington’s vision for this piece?

Nov. 10:
“The Cult of Bebop,” Dizzy Gillespie
“Bird: The Brilliance of Charlie Parker,” Whitney Balliett

On the blog:

Watch this brief documentary on the evolution of bebop by Caira Lee.

Optional: “Reminiscing About the Night Before,” Charles Simic — a lovely essay about the ways that jazz permeated the culture of New York City in a bygone era

Nov. 15: The Most Important Jazz Singer of the 20th Century

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, p. 102-106, John Szwed
“Strange Fruit,” David Margolick

On the blog:

Another song by Abe Meeropol with a strong social message. Frank Sinatra sang it in a short film against racism made in 1945 at the end of World War II (T/W: the film includes a racist slur against Japanese, against whom the US had been fighting). It was also recorded by Black artists, including Paul Robeson and Sam Cooke. Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday were friends; Frank said he learned how to sing from her.

Nov. 17: Jazz from the 1960s to the Present

“An Artist Speaks Bluntly,” Archie Shepp
“Free Jazz: A Reflection of Black Power Ideology,” John D. Baskerville


John Coltrane in his hotel room at Juan-les-Pins, France, 1965 (Jean-Pierre Leloir)

On the blog:

A selection of poetry from the Black Arts Movement about John Coltrane
“Why MLK Believed Jazz Was the Perfect Soundtrack for Civil Rights,” Ashawnta Jackson
“Jazz Has Always Been Protest Music. Can It Meet This Moment?” Giovanni Russonello
“Five Decades On, An Eclectic Church Preaches the Message of John Coltrane,” Anastasia Tsioulcas

Watch the 1959 film The Cry of Jazz:

Nov. 22: “The Blues Had A Baby and They Called it Rock and Roll“/Class Meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Library: Librarians will be available to help!

Watch James Brown’s performance at the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964:

“Little Richard Set the Mold by Breaking It” (Spencer Kornhaber)
“The Possessed: James Brown in 18 Minutes,” David Remnick

On the blog

Nov. 28: Freedom Songs: Music of the Civil Rights Movement and Beyond

Watch footage of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, and an excerpt of King’s Montgomery speech:

“Freedom Songs: Building a Civil Rights Playlist,” Charles L. Hughes
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the blog:


“Woke or Still Dreaming? A Dialogue on MLK’s ‘Dream’ Speech,” Journal of Free Black Thought
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spent the Last Year of His Life Detested by the Liberal Establishment,” Zaid Jilani

Dec. 1: Soul

From a column by Eddie Quinn, inmate in the Wisconsin State Prison and songwriter for the legendary prison soul band Upheaval, 1971
From Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People (Kekla Magoon)

“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History, David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson (excerpt)
“50 Years Later, Why ‘What’s Going On’ Endures,” Tonya Mosely and Samantha Raphelson

On the blog:

“Why Do Whites Sing Black?” Albert Goldman
“A Warning Ignored,” Jelani Cobb
“A Brief History of the Lumpen, the Black Panthers’ Revolutionary Funk Band,” Eric Arnold
“The Party’s Over,” Kate Coleman — a highly critical look at the degeneration of Black Panther Party and its charismatic leader, Huey Newton, in the late 1970s (the party was disbanded in 1980)

Listen to Malcolm X’s November 1963 speech “A Message to the Grass Roots.” Malcolm dismisses the August 1963 March on Washington and talks about the need for a “Black revolution.”

Watch footage from the late 1960s of Black activists explaining their position. Do their words still resonate today?

Dec. 6: Afrofuturism/Class Meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Library: Librarians will be available to help!

Afrofuturism is highly theoretical and interdisciplinary The readings are dense, so give yourself plenty of time to go through them!

Invisible Man, Prologue (Ralph Ellison)
“The Robot Voodoo Power Thesis: Afrofuturism and Anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith,” J. Griffith Rollefson

“Trans Identity as Embodied Afrofuturism,” Amber Johnson
Check out Sistah Scifi, a Black-owned bookstore in Philadelphia devoted exclusively to Afrofuturism

Look at some of Sun Ra’s album covers, prints, and pamphlets here:

On the blog:

Watch a video about the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit, “Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room.”

Watch Janelle Monáe’s 2018 Dirty Computer.

“I Am Curious (Black)!” from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #106 (1970) — the title is a reference to an experimental 1967 film, I Am Curious (Yellow).
The Parable of the Sower (graphic novel adaptation), Chapter 1 (Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings)
“That Time Muhammad Ali Beat Superman,” Todd Steven Burroughs
“Superheroes and Trailblazers: Black Comic Book Artists, Rediscovered,” Helene Stapinski
The reading list for a course Sun Ra taught at UC-Berkeley is here:

Watch Sun Ra’s germinal 1974 Afrofuturist musical film Space is the Place. [Content warning: contains nudity, violence, sexual situations, violence against women, and explicit language, including the N-word. If you want to, you can skip a scene that contains a lot of this content, from about 47:00 to about 54:30, in which two NASA scientists trying to learn Ra’s secrets of musical teletransportation go to a brothel.]

Dec. 8: Hip Hop Origin Stories

TW/CW: As we move into rap and hip-hop, we’ll be encountering an increased amount of explicit/offensive language, narratives, and imagery in both the music and the critical readings.

The Blues is dead because the soil that produces the Blues either lies fallow or has been covered with concrete. However, the Blues sensibility, the impulse to rise above by declaiming just how tough times are, the laughing to keep from crying, the celebration of the transformatory power of violence – all of that is found in the Blues music of the ’90s, which is, of course, Rap.” (Kalamu ya Salaam)


Anti-racist educator Chloé Valdary on hip hop’s connection to the Homeric tradition (remember the Hero’s Journey!)

“Rap’s African and African American Roots,” Fernando Orejuela
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me, Bruce Jackson: read the following excerpts:
– Preface, v-viii
– Toasts about Stagger Lee, 31-43
– Toasts about Dolomite, 45-50
– Toasts about Shine and the Great Titanic, 169-185
“Hip Hop’s Ground Zero,” Fernando Orejuela

On the blog:

Watch the trailer for the 2019 documentary Decade of Fire, about the destruction of the South Bronx:

“Crate Digging Begins at Home: Black and Latinx Women Collecting and Selecting Records in the 1960s and 1970s Bronx,” Jennifer Lynn Stoever
“The Connection Between Hip Hop, New Wave, and Punk,” Davey D


Class meets in library to work on whatever you need to before tonight!

Dec. 15; Rap and Gangsta Culture/Critical Hip Hop Discourses

The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane
“Hardcore: ‘Message Rap’ and ‘Gangsta Rap,'” Fernando Orejuela
“How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back,” John McWhorter
“The Message: Why Should Hip Hop Have to Teach Us Anything?”
Kelefa Sanneh

On the blog:

Optional: Punk Rock, which grew up around the same time as early rap, and was also Black
Shotgun Seamstress blog, Osa Atoe, and Shotgun Seamstress zine issues
“The Black Punk Pioneers Who Made Music History,” Daisy Jones
“Black Punk Time: Blacks in Punk, New Wave, and Hardcore 1976-1983,”
James Porter and Jake Austin

Watch the documentary Afro-Punk:

Hard to see in this video, but the legendary Binghamton punk band Devastation Masters’ drummer, Bill Roberts, was Black. (Bill is also a former student of mine.)