MUS 113 Syllabus Fall 2019

Class Syllabus

This is an outline and a rough schedule of the reading and listening assignments I will give over the course of the semester. It is subject to change at any time.

Keep in mind that we may spend more time on some sections of the class than on others.  Treat this schedule as a general guide to what we will be covering at certain points in the semester.


CRP=course reading packet


Prepare the following reading and listening assignments on your own for each class date listed below.

Be ready to discuss the assigned reading and listening for each day.

For the blog post assignments, you are expected to read all linked content and listen to all linked audio/video.

Aug. 27:
First class. Syllabus and expectations explained.
For next class, read and be ready to discuss:
Journal Assignment #1: See
Due in class on September 5.

American Folk Music and Cross-Cultural Encounters
Aug. 29:
“The Appropriation of Cultures, Percival Everett (CRP)

Sept. 3
“Sinful Songs of the Southern Negro,” John Lomax (CRP)

African Musical Forms and the Songs of the Enslaved
Sept. 5
“Sinful Tunes and Spirituals,” Dena J. Epstein (CRP)
“Job” (sheet music) (CRP)

Sept. 10
“The Sounds of Slavery,” Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts (CRP)
Journal assignment #2:
Find an example of a slave song in a film.
Is it diegetic or non-diegetic?
What narrative purpose does it serve in the film? What emotion do you think it’s meant to convey?
Do you think the music is “authentic”? Why or why not?
Due in class on on Sept. 17.

Sept. 12:
Sean Murray, “That ‘Weird and Wonderful Posture’: Jump ‘Jim Crow’ and the Performance of Disability” (CRP)

Sept. 17:
Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen: “Darkest America: How 19th-Century Black Minstrelsy Made Blackface Black” (handout)
Journal Assignment #3:
Is blackface always demeaning? Can it ever be liberating? Can it ever be performed respectfully? If yes, is it still blackface? Or is it something else? If it is something else, WHAT is it?
Give examples from your reading to support your argument.
Do you agree with the idea that blackface minstrelsy was not just about “theft,” but also about “love”? Explain.
Give a contemporary example of blackface or blackvoice.
Due on Sept. 26.

Spiritual folksong
 Sept. 19:
“The Sorrow Songs,” W.E.B. DuBois (CRP)

Secular folksong
Sept. 24 – Sept. 26:
“Self-Pity in Negro Folk-Songs,” John Lomax (CRP)
Music examples (CRP), p. 135-145
Journal Assignment #3 due Sept. 26.

The Blues
Oct. 1:
The Blues: A Secular Spiritual,” James Cone (CRP)
“Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” Eddie Dean (CRP)

Oct. 3:
White Tears, Hari Kunzru (excerpts, CRP), p. 181-203 (Note: these are the handwritten page numbers in the lower-right corner, NOT the page numbers in the book excerpt)

Oct. 8:
White Tears, p. 203-218

Oct. 10:
White Tears, p. 220-236
Midterm Paper Assignment: Write a 5-7 page paper (typed, double-spaced, 12-point font) tracing the evolution of the blues. Make sure to address the following questions:
What is the blues? Describe its musical structure.
What are some of the major textual/lyrical themes of the blues?
Does the blues address the social problems of the segregated South? Explain.
How and why did the blues evolve from its roots in the Southern sharecropping system to the Northern cities?
Why is the blues such an important genre?

Why are the majority of blues fans/collectors white?
Give specific examples from the genre. It will be helpful to listen to all the linked audio/video in the blog posts assigned from Oct. 1 to Oct. 10
Due on October 29.

Oct. 15: NO CLASS

Classical Music
Oct. 17:
“Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter Era,” Kira Thurman (CRP)
“Home,” Langston Hughes (CRP)

Oct. 22:
“The Rediscovery of Florence Price,” Alex Ross (CRP)
Journal assignment #4:
Read “It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die” by Nebal Maysaud at
Make sure you read all the comments as well.
Do you agree with Nebal Maysaud that “classical music must die,” in order that composers of color be liberated, artistically and socially? Why or why not? Explain.
Give specific examples of classical pieces by African-American composers to support your argument — use the music on the blog posts for Oct. 17 – 22, as well as your close listening and observations of the Binghamton Philharmonic concert on November 9 to inform what you write.
Due in class Nov. 14.

Ragtime and Gospel
Oct. 24:

Oct. 29:
Midterm Paper Due in class.
“Jazz on the Edge of Change,” David Sager (CRP)

Oct. 31:

Nov. 5:
“Strange Fruit: The First Great Protest Song,” Dorian Lynskey (CRP)
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday,” Johann Hari (CRP)
Letter from Tallulah Bankhead to J. Edgar Hoover (CRP)
“Billie Full of Grace,” Tracy Fessenden (handout); also accessible at

Nov. 7:
We will be meeting at the library for this class. Research librarian Dana Curtin will be giving us a special session on how to do research for your final paper. The paper assignment is explained in detail here:

“The Modern Scene,” LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (CRP)

Nov. 9: 7:30 PM at Forum Theater, Binghamton: Binghamton Philharmonic presents “Simone, Ellington, and Parks.” ATTENDANCE IS REQUIRED! Make sure to get a program and use it to take notes! You will be writing on this concert: SEE JOURNAL ASSIGNMENT #4 UNDER OCT. 22.

Rhythm and Blues
Nov. 12:
“Why Do Whites Sing Black?” Mike Daley (CRP)

Motown, Soul, and Funk
Nov. 14:
Journal Assignment #4 due in class.
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (CRP)
Dancing in the Street excerpt, Suzanne E. Smith (handout)
Journal Assignment #5: See
Due in class on November 26.

Nov. 19:
“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael (CRP)
Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! Excerpt, Julius Lester (CRP)

Rap, Hip Hop, and Remix Culture
Nov. 21:
“The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane (handout)
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me excerpts (CRP)
Final Paper Assignment: See

Nov. 26:
Journal Assignment #6 due.
“All Aboard the Night Train,” Tricia Rose (CRP)

Dec. 3:
“Black Nationalism and Rap Music,” Errol A. Henderson (CRP)
“The Revenge of Emmett Till: Impudent Aesthetics and the Swagger Narratives of Hip-Hop Culture,” James Braxton Peterson (CRP)
Excerpt from The 21st-Century Minstrel Show, Raphael Heaggans (handout)
Journal Assignment #7:
Has rap engaged effectively with social issues?
Or is it just entertainment?
Is it empowering to the black community?
Or is it degrading?
Provide support for your opinion from the reading assignments, and give examples of artists and music that backs it up.
Due in class on Dec. 10.

Dec. 5:
“Misogyny in Rap Music,” Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin (CRP)
When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost excerpt, Joan Morgan (handout)
“Doing 55 in a 54,” Jennifer Lynn Stoever (CRP)
 “Trauma,” Interview with Meek Mill (CRP)
“Prisoners Need a New Set of Rights,” Meek Mill (CRP)

Dec. 10:
Journal Assignment #7 due.
“Social Activism in Popular Culture: A Critical Review of the Disparate Responses to Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl Performance,” Davidson and Dobris (CRP)

Dec. 12:
“What the White Boy Means When He Says Yo,” Charles Aaron (CRP)
“The End of an Aura: Nostalgia, Memory, and the Haunting of Hip Hop,” Roy Christopher (CRP)

Dec. 16:
No class; put it in my mail slot in the music office!