American Studies | US Arts & Media: American Popular
A202 | 31638 | Hain

American Popular Music

Rock ‘n’ roll, a distinctly American art form, is often regarded as
symbolic of American society and culture as a whole. Borrowing from a
tremendous variety of musical antecedents from many different
cultures, ethnicities, and regions, rock represents a marriage of
African and European traditions that many regard as exemplary of an
American ideal.

More than this, rock and other forms of American popular music are
cultural phenomena that continue to grow and to reflect the
contributions of new voices in an increasingly multicultural and
transnational society.

This class focuses on American popular music—both that which
influenced rock, and that which derived from rock—as a way of
exploring a number of the issues crucial to American Studies. Popular
music, as one of the ways we most clearly see the amalgam of various
traditions in American culture, serves as a particularly effective
focus for examining and analyzing the various social, historical,
political, and cultural issues wrapped up in our conception of
America. Beginning with the question of what America is, we will
examine the complex subject of what comprises an “American” identity,
considering the many possibilities, conflicts, and opportunities
raised by this matter.
Through readings and in-class lectures, we will study the history and
politics of American popular music from the late 19th century to the
present, looking at genres and styles including minstrelsy, ragtime,
blues, “Tin Pan Alley,” jazz, musical theater, country-western, R&B,
pop, folk, rock, soul, dance music, hip-hop, “world music,” and
variations and subgenres of each. Our examination will take an
interdisciplinary approach, looking at music from historical,
anthropological, social science, media studies, cultural studies, and
American studies perspectives. Since this class focuses on music,
class lectures and discussion will be supplemented with both audio
and video clips to illustrate various types of music and their
cultural significance.