This course examines the extraordinary influence of musical expression on literary works in the African American tradition. Drawing on a wide range of texts from fiction and poetry to autobiography, musicology, literary criticism and reportage, we will pay particular attention to how music figures as a sign of authenticity in black literature as slavery, the Great Migration of the early 20th century, class mobility and gender identities put pressure on the politics of belonging. Throughout the course the relationship between African American culture and the wider Black Atlantic will remain a crucial concern. We'll begin with the role of music as memory in accounts of remembered Africa songs in autobiographical work by W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrisons Song of Solomon, and a film tracing a mourning song in the Gullah islands of South Carolina to its corollary among the Mende people of Sierra Leone. We'll then spend some time listening to vernacular music (spirituals, work-songs, and blues) and explore the politics of how and why these forms found varying degrees of acceptance, particularly in the milieu of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro movement. Students need not have an extensive background in musicology, but should be prepared to devot time to weekly listening.
In a two-part post, the Penn Gazette Arts and Culture blog features music listening suggestions from various staff and faculty at the Music Department. Both Part 1 and Part 2 highlight some new and interesting summer listening suggestions.