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Hearing Difference: The Commercial Music Industry and the American Racial Imaginary

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number IDSEM-UG1802
Section 001
Instructor Kwami Coleman
Days MW
Time 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM



In 1903, at the dawn of the commercial music industry, sociologist W. E. B. DuBois famously proclaimed that the foremost problem in twentieth century American society is “the problem of the color line.” Du Bois’s prescience sets the stage for this course’s exploration of racial identity in recorded, commercially available music. We will examine how racial performance has intermingled with music consumption in the United States since blackface minstrelsy in the 1830s. Our goal is to understand how deeply embedded race—both ascribed and claimed—is in American music culture, reverberating throughout the last century in debates on artists’ authenticity, propriety, and popularity. This course is organized chronologically; each week is devoted to a particular era and its corresponding musical genres leading up to the present. With the rising importance of visual media since the mid-20th century, a historically informed understanding of the confluences of race and ethnicity in American music culture through music media and technologies will offer an enhanced understanding of the past and our contemporary, internet-driven musical landscape.


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Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)