MUS 113 Syllabus Spring 2020: Schedule of Classes and Assignments (with Coronavirus Updates)

Please let me know, in a comment on this page OR via email, if you have trouble opening any of the links!

Read this page EVERY DAY, as I update it frequently to conform to the changing college, state, and county coronavirus recommendations.

Virtual Office Hours:
I am available to answer any questions via email, phone (my phone number is on the hard copy of your syllabus), or in the comments box of this post. If you would like to schedule a longer appointment with me, let me know, and we can do it by phone or email.

Schedule of Assigned Reading, Listening, Writing, and Projects


Prepare the following reading and listening assignments on your own before each class date listed below. All readings are linked. The blog posts will direct you to the relevant pages on this blog, where you will find all the listening examples. For the 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.

For HOW to do the reading, go here.

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

Jan. 28 – Jan. 30:

First class. Syllabus and expectations explained.
For Jan. 30, read and be ready to discuss:
“Black and Blue and Blond: Where Does Race Fit in the Construction of Modern Identity?” (Thomas Chatterton Williams)
“Why is Everybody Always Stealing Black Music?” (Wesley Morris)
“Race and the Embodiment of Culture” (John Szwed)

Journal Assignment #1:
There is a playlist for the John Szwed article, and a journal assignment, here:

Due in class on February 4.

African Musical Forms and the Songs of the Enslaved
Feb. 4
“Some Fundamentals of African Music,” Peter van der Merwe
“Rock and Roll Unplugged: African-American Music in 18th-Century America” (Michael J. Morgan) 

Feb. 6

Minstrelsy in Black and White
Feb. 11:
“Black Musicians and Early Ethiopian Minstrelsy,” T. Allston Brown and Charles Day
“Early Minstrel Show Music, 1843-1852,” Robert B. Winans
“‘Shuffle Along’ and the Lost History of Black Performance in America,” John Jeremiah Sullivan
Start reading and listening to this post and ALL its linked content:
Leave a comment on the blog post “Ethiopian Songs: Love and Theft” (linked above), in which you respond to the questions at the end of the post.
Identify yourself by FIRST NAME ONLY in your comment.
Feel free to respond and discuss with one another in the comments.

Feb. 13:

Spiritual and Secular Folksong
Feb. 18:
“Songs of Remembrance,” Josephine Wright
“The Sorrow Songs,” W.E.B. DuBois
“Self-Pity in Negro Folk-Songs,” John Lomax
Music examples on p. 114 – 116 in the course reading packet
Listen to the spirituals that Josephine Wright references:

Two Spirituals: “Get Your Ready, There’s a Meeting Here Tonight”and “Prayer is the Key”:

“By an’ By”

“Watch and Pray (Is Massa Gwine to Sell Us Tomorrow),” arranged by composer Undine Smith Moore:

How do W.E.B. DuBois and John Lomax differ in their understanding of spirituals? Give examples from each essay, as well as an example of a song.

Feb. 20:
“Sinful Songs of the Southern Negro,” John Lomax
“A Black Cultural Tradition and its Unlikely Keepers,” Samuel G. Freedman
Music examples (handout)

The Blues
Feb. 25:
“The Blues Mode and the 12-Bar Form,” Peter van der Merwe
(This reading has a lot of technical musical language and musical examples; if you can read music, try to play through some of them on the keyboard or on your instrument. If you can’t read music, scan the text for a sense of the musical language commonly used to describe the blues.)
“The Blues: A Secular Spiritual,” James Cone

Feb. 27:
Read about and listen to Mamie Smith’s important blues hit, “Crazy Blues”:
Read about the relationship between the blues and prison/work songs:

March 3:
Watch Muddy Waters invite the Rolling Stones to perform onstage with him at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago, 1981:

Read: “Natural Truth,” Marybeth Hamilton and
White Tears (Hari Kunzru), pp. 10-34, 61-88: Seth begins the narrative

March 5:
White Tears: JumpJim tells Seth the story of his 1959 trip to the South with Chester Bly, pp. 143-155, 171-178, 182-186, 194-203
Charlie Shaw tells his story, and enters Seth as a time-traveling “cheval”: pp. 272-290
“Pay Me What You Owe Me,” Rishi Nath

Assignment: Leave a comment on the blog post “JumpJim’s Southern Journey,” in which you address the questions at the end of the post. Due on March 5.

March 10:
“Ragtime,” Guy Waterman

Midterm Group Project: Updated for Coronavirus!

You now have your choice of TWO midterm projects.

  1. Continue with the Charles Cohen project IF you are able to, but submit your work to me online. You can collaborate online, too, although, as of this writing, meeting in small groups is not being discouraged by the college (that could change). The group members of the best project will each get a $5 Starbucks gift card!

    Choice #2 follows the Charles Cohen assignment.

1. Who Was Charles Cohen?

As you read in the “Ragtime, Part I” blog post, Binghamton had its own Scott Joplin.

Your assignment is to create a short biography of him. This can be done using the medium of your choice! Some examples of media you might like to explore include, but are not limited to:

  • As a PowerPoint presentation
  • As a web page
  • As a video
  • As a podcast
  • As an Instagram Gallery with captions

This is a collaborative project; you will be divided into groups of four. Each group will need to designate and divide up the tasks of research and writing.

These are the steps you should take:

  1. Identify sources and locations for your research.
  2. Set up interview appointments and/or trips to the Broome County Public Library (the #8 bus will take you there).
  3. Find one of Cohen’s pieces in the sheet music collection of the Broome County Public Library and photocopy it. Try to find a performance on Youtube or another platform.
  4. Create your biography of Cohen. If you’re writing an essay, it should be about 3-5 pages. If you’re using audio or video, it should be about 4 minutes long. If you’re doing a PowerPoint, use as many slides as it takes. For other media, ask me.
  5. Include an ANNOTATED bibliography. This is necessary regardless of the medium you choose. An annotated bibliography is an alphabetical list of sources, like other bibliographies, but each entry is followed by your own note, in which you describe the source in your own words, and give your personal assessment of its value to your research and to future scholars of Charles Cohen (each note need only take one sentence).

Pro tip: You won’t find much, if anything, on Wikipedia. You will need to dig deeper.

You should make sure to consult the following sources:

  • Dana Curtin, research librarian at our library. She can show you how to use databases and can help you get books and articles through interlibrary loan.
  • Theresa Lee-Whiting, a singer and choral conductor. She is the Director of Music at Tabernacle United Methodist Church at 83 Main Street in Binghamton, and  she lives in Charles Cohen’s old house! When you contact her, tell her you are my students.
  • Our own piano professor Pej Reitz, who, with Ms. Lee-Whiting, has presented concerts of Cohen’s work.
  • The Binghamton Public Library, which has some of his sheet music in their collection.
  • The Binghamton Historical Society (housed on the second floor of the public library).

Project is due on March 31.

How this project will be graded:

Keep in mind that, although this is a group project, I will be striving to assess the work of each individual in each group fairly. In other words, the work of each group must be divided fairly: don’t count on one or two individuals do to it all!

I will be passing out a group résumé which each member of the group will need to fill out; you can also find a copy attached below. This is a tool to help identify the special strengths of each group member, and to help each group designate the work according to these strengths. It is due in class on March 12.

Keep in mind also that this project will require your groups to meet outside of class time. Make sure you exchange contact info to facilitate this.

Grading rubric for the midterm:

2. Alternative Midterm: Diagramming the Blues

Create an original diagram (or diagrams) demonstrating how African American life influenced the blues, and how the blues, in turn, influenced American culture at large. What social, historical, and cultural trends contributed to the creation of the blues?

You can use any medium you choose for your diagram (if you hand-draw it, please submit photos). For inspiration, check out the beautiful, unusual charts made by W.E.B. Du Bois and his graduate students made for the 1900 World’s Fair, here. An example:

You will find a great deal of material exploring the blues, its contexts, and its contents in the assigned readings, starting with the February 18 assignments. Nevertheless, the more research you do, the more you will know, and the better your project will be. Make sure to include a bibliography.

Due on March 31. Submit to me at

(And, to be fair, best one gets a $5 Starbucks gift card!)

Classical Music, Musicians of Color, and their Reception
March 12:
“Singing Against the Grain: Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter Era,” Kira Thurman
“Home,” Langston Hughes
“Young, Gifted and Black But Still Forgotten,” Bob Shingleton

March 17:
“Transatlantic Debate”
“The Rediscovery of Florence Price,” Alex Ross

Online Discussion: Should Classical Music Die?
(Note: this assignment has been updated from a journal assignment to an online discussion.)

Due March 19 by 11:59 PM.

March 19:
(Make sure to read linked content)

Discussion Assignment: Leave a comment on this blog post, addressing the questions at the end of the post. Due on March 24 by 11:59 PM.

The Harlem Renaissance
March 24:
“Harlem: The Cultural Capital,” James Weldon Johnson
“Harlem, Billy Strayhorn, Ethel Waters . . . and Me,” Steven Blier

Discussion Assignment: Leave a comment on the Harlem Renaissance blog post, responding to the questions at the end of the post. Due on March 26 by 11:59 PM.

Note: we will be spending more time on jazz than on any other genre, since it’s arguably the most diverse and important musical form to emerge from African America.
March 26:
Ken Burns interview with Wynton Marsalis
“Jazz Antecedents,” Eddie Meadows. This reading provides an alternative theory about the birth of jazz.
The following primary source readings are all very short, and I’ve combined them into a single document, here.
 “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

Watch episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz, here (with Portuguese subtitles!):

Discussion Assignment: Leave a comment on the “Origins of Jazz” blog post, in which you respond to the questions at the end of the post. Due on April 2 by 11:59 PM.

March 31:
Midterm projects due by 11:59 PM.
Read “Duke Ellington Explains Swing”
Watch the short 1929 film “Black and Tan Fantasy,” featuring Duke Ellington and his music:

Billie Holiday, the most important jazz singer of the 20th century
April 2:
“Billie Full of Grace,” Tracie Fessenden
“Strange Fruit: The First Great Protest Song,” Dorian Lynskey
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday,” Johann Hari

April 7:
Watch this short excerpt from Ken Burns’s Jazz:

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

Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Free Jazz
April 9
Kind of Blue: Why the Best-Selling Jazz Album of All Time is So Great,” Fred Kaplan
“John Coltrane and the Black Music Revolution,” Frank Kofsky
“An Artist Speaks Bluntly,” Archie Shepp
“Free Jazz: A Reflection of Black Power Ideology,” John D. Baskerville
“Misconceptions in Linking Free Jazz with the Civil Rights Movement,” Mark C. Gridley
Assignment: Leave a comment on the blog post “Freedom Now,” in which you respond to the questions at the end of the post. Due on April 9 by 11:59 PM.

Paper Assignment: Jazz and Race in Film

In episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz, commentator Wynton Marsalis says:

Race for this country is like the thing in the story, in the mythology, that you have to do for the kingdom to be well. And it’s always something that you don’t want to do. And it’s always that thing that’s so much about you confronting yourself, that is tailor-made for you to fail dealing with it. And the question of your heroism, and of your courage, and of your success with this trial [of race] is, “Can you confront it with honesty, and do you have the energy to sustain an attack on it?” And since jazz music is at the center of the American mythology, it necessarily deals with race. The more we run from it, the more we run into it. It’s an age-old story, and if it’s not race, it’s something else. But in this particular instance, in this nation, it is race.

The clip begins at 56:44 in the film, is also found in Ken Burns’s interview with Marsalis. Both sources are linked under March 26.

Write a 4-6 page paper in which you discuss Ken Burns’s film, and also the short films The Cry of Jazz (linked at the top of Watch the film The Cry of Jazz, linked at, Black and Tan Fantasy (March 31), and the clip from the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’ found on this blog page:

In your paper, you should address the following questions:

What do these films, which date from the 1920s to 2000, tell us about jazz and race?


  • How do they use visual elements, as well as music, to explain the ways that racial issues were approached in 20th-century American society?
  • How do they position jazz as a uniquely African-American art form?
  • Do you think these films succeed as “visual documents” about music? Do you think they succeed as visual documents about social and historical issues?
  • How do the films show a change in attitudes about both race and music from the early 20th century to the turn of the new millennium?

Your paper should be typewritten, double-spaced, in 12-point font. If you don’t have access to a word-processing program, you can hand write it and take pictures. Make sure you include a bibliography!
Please email it to me as an attachment at by 11:59 PM on April 20 at 11:59 PM.

Rhythm and Blues
April 21:
 “Why Do Whites Sing Black?” Albert Goldman
Watch the BBC documentary “Blues Britannia,” about the influence of the blues on English rock musicians.
Assignment: Leave a comment on the “How R&B Became Rock and Roll” blog post, in which you respond to the questions at the end of the post. Due on April 23 at 11:59 PM.

Motown, Soul, Funk
April 23:
 “Can’t Forget the Motor City,” Suzanne E. Smith

April 28:
Watch this 1972 documentary about the ways that the blues was transformed in Chicago by the social conditions the Mississippi migrants encountered there. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory offers some trenchant analysis of redlining, “kitchenette” housing, and other realities of black Chicago life.

Read and listen:
Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (excerpt), Aaron Cohen
Discussion Assignment: Leave a comment on the “We Shall Overcome” blog post (see April 30), responding to the questions at the end of the post.
Due on April 30 by 11:59 PM.

Final Project Assignment: Blog Post
Your Favorite Piece of Music from the African Diaspora to the Americas

  • What is your favorite song or piece of music that you have encountered in this class?
  • You will be writing your own blog post on this site, in which you present your favorite song or piece.
  • At the end of April, I will give you information about how to log on and create your blog post.
  • In the post, be sure to address the following questions:
    • What are its good or valuable qualities? What makes them good — aesthetically, socially, historically?
    • What is the historical context of the piece?
    • What social values does the piece reflect?
    • If it is an old piece of music, do its aesthetic and social values still hold true for our own time?
    • If it is a contemporary piece, do you think it will retain its value for future generations? Explain.
    • How does your piece reflect the contributions of Black Americans to national culture?
    • Does it have any bad or detracting qualities? If so, what makes them problematic?
    • Why should people listen to this piece of music? What should they listen for?
    • Include video, visuals, links to further readings, and anything else that would help your readers understand and appreciate the piece.
  • Due at 11:59 PM on May 19.

Grading Rubric for your final project
In order to earn a good grade on this project, you will need to demonstrate your command of the following things:

  1. Your own original idea/thesis/argument about the importance of your chosen piece of music.
  2. Your ability to present the findings discovered in the course of your study of African-American music history in such a way that your listeners (i.e., me and the rest of the class) can clearly follow your line of reasoning: that is, you present your research in a well-organized format.
  3. Your ability to respond to alternative or opposing perspectives brought up by me and/or your classmates, and to resolve any questions or contradictions in a logical way.
  4. Your strategic use of digital media in your presentation to enhance your listeners’ understanding of your argument, and to add interest to your presentation.
  5. Your use of context-specific speech, i.e. formal/scholarly English, in your presentation.

April 30:
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael
Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! Excerpt, Julius Lester

Origins of Rap
May 5:
“The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane
“Echoes from the Ghetto Gutters,” Albert Goldman
“The Roots and Stylistic Foundation of the Rap Music Tradition,” Cheryl L. Keyes
Assignment: Answer the questions at the end of the blog post “Stagolee Shot Billy” in a comment. Due on May 5 at 11:59 PM.

May 7:
“The Culture of Hip-Hop,” Michael Eric Dyson (p. 61-68)
“Hip-Hop and Black Noise: Raising Hell,” Rickey Vincent (481-491)
Assignment: Answer the questions at the end of the blog post “Wild Style” in a comment. Due on May 12 at 11:59 PM.

Hip-Hop, Culture, Politics, and Controversy
May 12:
Born in a Mighty Bad Land (excerpt), Jerry H. Bryant (warning: explicit language)
“Code of Thug Life,” Tupac Shakur
“All Eyez on U,” Nikki Giovanni
Assignment: Answer the questions at the end of the post “From Revolution to Rap” in a blog comment. Due on May 14 at 11:59 PM.

May 14:
“How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back,” John McWhorter
The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop,
introduction (p. 1-23), Todd Boyd
When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, Joan Morgan, p. 54-66
The 21st-Century Hip-Hop Minstrel Show, excerpt, Raphael Heaggans

May 19:
These readings are optional, NOT required. If you have the time and it interests you, read about Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and the interplay between art, class, race, and commerce.
“She Invited Other People to that Space,” Amanda Nell Edgar and Ashton Toone
Final project due at 11:59 PM.