|Respect: Minority Voices in Early Soul, Reggae, Rock & Folk
This course is 10 hours long, 2.5 hours each session.
For decades, ethnic minorities have expressed some of their strongest and most influential protest and social activism through popular music. This course will discuss and celebrate social commentary in early soul, reggae, rock, and folk, focusing on the musical voices of African-Americans, Jamaicans, Native Americans, and Latinos in the second half of the twentieth century. The first session spotlights soul greats like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield; the second session reggae musicians, particularly Bob Marley; the third Native Americans, especially Buffy Sainte-Marie and Jimi Hendrix; and the fourth Latino rockers from Ritchie Valens through Santana and Los Lobos.
First session: Social protest and commentary in the golden age of soul. Some of this, but not much, would overlap with what I covered in the final week of my soul mini-course. There are plenty such songs, and film clips, from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, and others. Featured songs include Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Franklin’s “Respect,” Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and Wonder’s “Living for the City,” among numerous others.
Second session: Social protest and commentary in the heyday of reggae. Much of this will focus on Bob Marley and the Wailers, on whom I wrote one of my books. But it will also draw in other early reggae performers like Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, and interesting names that will likely be new to most students, like Burning Spear and Linton Kwesi Johnson. The best movie that uses '70s Jamaica and reggae as a backdrop, The Harder They Come, streams for free on kanopy.com and can be suggested pre-class viewing.
Third session: Social protest and commentary in music by Native Americans. The most prominent of these is Buffy Sainte-Marie. Although she's not as well known as Marley, she's very interesting as a Native American Canadian who was adopted by an American family and raised in the US, and went on to write songs specifically about Native American issues, but also about others like immigration, incest, and species extinction. She was an influence on early singer-songwriters, most famously fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell. Fortunately there's a fair amount of film footage of Sainte-Marie performing crucial songs. Her first album was selected for the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry, and this spring I wrote the essay on it for the Library of Congress site, though it's not up yet because they can't update the website while staff is working at home.
A few other prominent Native Americans will also be featured. The most famous of these is Jimi Hendrix, who was part Cherokee, and dedicated his song “I Don’t Live Today” to the plight of Native Americans. Others include Link Wray, the first Native American to have a rock hit (with “Rumble”), and Debora Iyall, singer-songwriter of the San Francisco new wave band Romeo Void. The recent documentary Rumble (streaming for free on kanopy.com) covers Satine-Marie, Hendrix, and some other Native American rocker. For a local connection, the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969-70 can be noted, as Sainte-Marie played a benefit concert for the occupants in Berkeley's Aquatic Park in 1970, and Creedence Clearwater Revival donated quite a bit of money for a boat for the occupants.
Fourth session: Latino rock. There weren’t too many explicitly political songs in twentieth century Latino rock, though there were a few. I'd focus on how the very presence of Latino musicians in rock was enormously significant to the Latino population as examples of how they could become part of what was becoming America's most popular music, though Latinos were scarcely represented in the media or entertainment world at the time. Performers would include famous ones like Santana, Ritchie Valens (the first Latino rock star), Jose Feliciano, and Los Lobos, as well as interesting but less celebrated figures.