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, SO CHECK THIS PAGE OFTEN. Make sure you read it before every class period. That way there will be no surprises.

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.
  • Prepare that date’s assignments before the class date for which they’re listed.
  • If you do the reading and listening BEFORE that day’s class, we will be able to really dig into class discussions. Class discussion makes up a significant percentage of your grade, and if you come to class forearmed with knowledge, you can use classroom time to deepen your understanding of African-American musics and the complex social and cultural milieus they reflect.
  • 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)

Oct. 24: Class canceled due to campus-wide power outage

Oct. 29: Ragtime

Oct. 31: Gospel

Journal assignment #4: Your Choice of Two Topics!

Topic #1: Classically Black
This topic requires you to attend the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra concert on November 9 (See info below).
– 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 found on the blog posts linked 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. Attach the concert program to your paper.

Topic #2: Ridden by the Spirit(s)
This topic requires you to attend a service at a historically black church.
– Read the blog post and listen to all linked audio/watch all linked video.
– You are NOT REQUIRED to read the two linked articles by Theresa Reed and Valorie Thomas, but you might want to skim them to help you form your argument.
– Attend a Sunday service at a local black church. Some to choose from:
1. Trinity A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church, 203 Oak Street, Binghamton, (607) 724-4772. Service at 11 AM on Sunday.
2. Our Free Will Baptist Church, 80 Front Street, Binghamton, (607) 772-8684. Service at 11 AM on Sunday.
3. House of Worship Church of God in Christ, 93 Riverside Drive, Binghamton, (607) 348-4534. Service at 12 PM on Sunday.
Note: if you are going to church, remember to dress your best! For more, see:

(It’s satire, but it’s still good advice.)

– What characteristics of gospel music allow the worshipper to feel inspired and even “taken over” by the Holy Spirit?
– Are there other music genres that give the listener a similar experience? Explain.
– Use examples from gospel songs found on the blog post or on your own.
Attach the program from the church service to your paper.

Due in class Nov. 19.

Nov. 5:
“Jazz on the Edge of Change,” David Sager (CRP)

Nov. 7:
“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)

*Nov. 9: 7:30 PM at Forum Theater, Binghamton: Binghamton Philharmonic presents “Simone, Ellington, and Parks.” ATTENDANCE IS REQUIRED if you are choosing Topic #1 for Journal Assignment #4. Make sure to get a program and use it to take notes.*

Nov. 12:
“The Modern Scene,” LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (CRP)

Rhythm and Blues
Nov. 14:
“Why Do Whites Sing Black?” Mike Daley (CRP)

Motown, Soul, and Funk
Nov. 19:
Journal Assignment #4 due.
Guided tour of the exhibit not but nothing other at the Binghamton University Art Gallery. We are meeting at the gallery (see handout from October 19 class).

Nov. 21:
“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael (CRP)
Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! Excerpt, Julius Lester (CRP)
Journal Assignment #5: See
Due in class on December 3.

Dec. 3:
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (CRP
Dancing in the Street excerpt, Suzanne E. Smith (handout)
Journal Assignment #5 due in class.

Rap, Hip Hop, and Remix Culture
Dec. 5:
“The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane (handout)
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me excerpts (CRP)
Final Project Assignment: See

Dec. 10:
“All Aboard the Night Train,” Tricia Rose (CRP)“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)

Dec. 12:
“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)

Final Project Presentations to be scheduled on Dec. 10 – 12.