From Spirituals to Hip Hop (MUS 113) Syllabus, Spring 2023: Full Schedule of Reading, Listening, and Other Assignments by Date

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 AKA “Talk-to-Me Tuesdays”: Tues 3:30-4:30

This is the Spring 2023 schedule of classes, readings, and assignments. For course policies, including grading policies and breakdown, go here.

For each week’s required reading and focus points, go to the Weekly Course Updates page. CHECK THIS PAGE EVERY DAY. The readings are subject to change, and if you take a look at it every day there will be no surprises.

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. Do the reading assignments for each class date before that class date. You will be doing writing about assigned reading in each class. You can access the readings directly from the links under each class date.
  2. The “On the blog” links will direct you to posts on this blog where I have embedded all the listening examples that go with each class’s reading. Unless otherwise indicated, you are not required to do the listening before class, but you are free to click on any of the blog post links and explore.
  3. This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the reading and other coursework. Read it!
  4. This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the listening. Read it!
  5. Take notes on your reading, listening, and class discussions. Re-read your notes every week.

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

January 24: What is race? What is identity? Who are we? How do we talk about it? And why is a white lady teaching it?

As James N. Gregory writes in The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America:

White and Black are never neat categories, even in a place like the [American] South that did so much to inscribe them in law.

“I Am An American,” Sheena Mason and Donna Druchunas (Professor Mason teaches at SUNY Oneonta, nearby)
“Passing for Black? Another Perspective,” Julius Lester
“They Look White But Say They’re Black,” Khushbu Shah

And what does “diaspora” mean?

The word “diaspora” is of Greek origin. It was first used by the ancient Greeks describe their colonizing migrations into the Mediterranean and Near Asian world. The term was later used to describe the mass expulsion of the Jews from Palestine in the year 70 A.D., when their rebellion was crushed by the colonizing Romans and they were dispersed among the nations. James N. Gregory defines the word as referring to “historically consequential population dispersions . . . those inspired by opportunity as well as by oppression.”

The first diaspora we will be exploring is the forced dispersal of Africans to the New World in bondage. The second is the Great Migration of Black Americans from the American South to the North.

On the blog:

January 26: 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 the blog:

January 31: From Africa to the New World
“Some Fundamentals of African Music,” Peter van der Merwe (this has technical musical terms and some music notation examples)

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).

West and East African Songs (musical transcriptions for those who read music)

On the blog:

February 2: 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:

February 7: Spirituals

[Note: Because of changing views about the word “Negro,” spirituals are now often called “African American Spirituals” or just “spirituals.” However, some scholars maintain 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.]

“The Great Awakening,” Marshall W. Stearns

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

On the blog:

Feb. 9: Spirituals in the Post-Bellum Era: Class meets in the library 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:

Feb. 14: Minstrelsy in Black and White

The Bone Player, William Sidney Mount (1856)

(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.)

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

On the blog:

Feb. 16: Minstrelsy in Modern Contexts

“Before it Goes Away: Performance and Reclamation of Songs from Blackface Minstrelsy,” Sheryl Kaskowitz
“In Columbia [S.C.], Artist John Sims Looks Back on 20 Years Transforming the Confederate Flag,” Jordan Lawrence
“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.

Feb. 21: Secular Folk Song: The Blues

“The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.” (Ralph Ellison)

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.

The 12 Blues Scales, transcribed and published by Jamie Aebersold, 1970

On the blog:

Feb. 23: 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:


February 28: 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:

March 2: Ragtime
“Ragtime,” Guy Waterman
“A Pianist Strolls Her Harlem History, and Scott Joplin’s,” Seth Colter Walls

On the blog:

March 7: 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:

March 9:
“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.

March 14: Black Composers in Classical Music Traditions
Read: “Lifting the Cone of Silence From Black Composers,” George E. Lewis (listen to audio clips!)
Read the website of The Black String Triage Ensemble, based in Milwaukee.

On the blog:

March 16: Black Sacred Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries
Written First Draft of Your Plans for Alternative Historical Document due today at 11:59 PM — THIS IS YOUR MIDTERM!
“Afro-Christian Music and Religion,” LeRoi Jones
“How the Black Church Fueled a Movement,” Maggie Phillips

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:

On the blog:

March 21 – 23: Spring Break

March 28: The Harlem Renaissance

The so-called Harlem Renaissance was, for the most part, a fantasy-era for most black writers and their white friends,” he wrote. “For the people of the community, it never even existed. It was a thing apart. (Larry Neal, 1968)

“History of a Song: Underneath the Harlem Moon,” Harlem World magazine
“Gladys Bentley: A Gender-Bending Blues Performer Who Became Harlem Royalty,” Giovanni Russonello (click on Read More to get the full article)

On the blog:

March 30: Jazz Beginnings
Revised Draft of Your Final Project Plan Due at 11:59 PM.

Ten Basic Elements of Jazz, Langston Hughes
Primary source readings (these are 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:

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

April 4: 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

April 6:
“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.

April 11: No Class: Work On Your Final Projects!

April 13: 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:

April 18: No Class: Convocation

April 20: Jazz from the 1960s to the Present
First Draft of Your Final Project Document Due to Me at 11:59 PM.

“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:

We will be watching the 1959 film The Cry of Jazz in class:

April 25: “The Blues Had A Baby and They Called it Rock and Roll

As we work on this unit, keep in mind the ways that rhythm and blues/rock and roll reflect a literal southernization of American popular music forms. How and why did this come about?

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

April 27: 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:

“Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Transgressive Leadership and Theo-Ethical Texts of Black Protest Music,” AnnMarie Mingo
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the blog:


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:

May 4: Afrofuturism

(From the introduction to Afrofuturism and Digital Humanities: Show Me and I Will Engage Differently (Bryan W. Carter)

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

“The Comet,” W.E.B. Du Bois (1920)
Invisible Man, Prologue, Ralph Ellison
“Afrofuturism Takes Flight: From Sun Ra to Janelle Monáe,” Lanre Bakare
“Afrofuturism: The Next Generation,” Ruth LaFerla

On the blog:

May. 9: 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:

May 11: Rap and Gangsta Culture/Critical Hip Hop Discourses
Final Project Due

The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane
“Hardcore: ‘Message Rap’ and ‘Gangsta Rap,’” Fernando Orejuela
“How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back,” John McWhorter (a highly polemical take by a generally cranky scholar — old, but still provocative!)
“Know What I Mean?” Michael Eric Dyson (a refutation of McWhorter)
“Violent Gang, or Rap Label? Prosecutors Say Young Thug’s YSL is Both,” Joe Coscarelli and Richard Faussett

On the blog:

May 16: Last Class

Present your Alternative History Projects!

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