The Roots and the Real: Authenticity and American Popular Music
Is it street? Is it roots? Is it real? This seminar will combine reading, listening, research and performance to explore the way our culture understands and evaluates its popular music. We will explore the defining standards of the many branches of American popular music: blues, jazz, country, gospel, bluegrass, rock and roll, soul, hip hop and beyond. Our particular focus will be on understanding the role of the concept of “authenticity” in our culture’s evaluation of the merit of popular music and the tensions between the mandates of authenticity and of commercial success. We will learn research methods and apply those skills to research and writing projects about the music, its makers, its roots, and what is real. All seminar members will contribute to performances that allow us to gain a sense of participation in the music that we study. We will define “performance” very broadly as “some form of creative expression:” no prior artistic training or musical expertise is required or expected. The only prerequisite is a willingness to participate in some thoughtful and involved way in performances that deepen the critical understanding of American music produced by our more formal methods of investigation.