Presentation Descriptions.

Kevin's Culture Corner:

The Social and Political History of American Music Series


The History of American Music Series is a set of SEVEN presentations that can be scheduled individually or as a series. This series of talks reviews and explores the complex yet beautifully rich history of American musical culture. Anchored by the main overview presentation, From Slave Spirituals to Hip Hop, the series examines the sociological, political, and economic roots of each genre of music, individual pieces of music and lyrics, the people who were integral in its creation and its relationship to today’s music, culture and politics. Throughout the series, music will be used as a prism to view the varied sociological, political and economic issues facing America. Issues such as racism, war, poverty, economics, sexism, unionism, and capitalism will be examined by listening to American music. Each presentation is approximately 90 minutes in length with a period following for questions from the attendees.


Presentation One:

From Slave Spirituals to Hip Hop: The Social and Political History of American Music


This presentation will review the rich and complex development of music over the four centuries of post-Columbus American history and connect these strains of music through examining their social and political context. Using recorded music, film clips and still images the presentation will trace the evolution of American music from the early slave spirituals, through the hugely popular minstrelsy in the late 19th century, to the blues and jazz that developed at the opening of the 20th Century, to the Rock n Roll that was created in the late 40s and early 50s, and ending with the various strains of American popular and topical music of the last thirty years that resulted from the evolution of rock and roll. Throughout the presentation an emphasis will be placed on the social and political context of the music and the messages the songs were attempting to convey.


Presentation Two:

Slaves, Soldiers and Abolitionists: The Music of the Civil War Era


This presentation with review the music of American slaves in the two centuries leading up the American Civil War, the popular music styles that were celebrated in the northern and southern states in the 1850s and early 1860s, the songs of the abolitionists and finally the songs and music used by both the union and confederate soldiers. Using recorded music, film clips and still images the presentation will integrate the politics and social conditions that existed in America during the Civil War era with the music being played throughout the country. The presentation will emphasize the use of music to express the struggle for freedom by the American slave, the ideas and attitudes of soldiers and abolitionists, and the contemporary popular musical culture in American.


Presentation Three:

Sin to Swing: The Evolution of Jazz in America


This presentation with review the history and musical culture of New Orleans, the birth of a new music called Jazz, the many colorful creators of this music, and it’s evolution to Swing and Big Band music. Using recorded music, film clips and still images the presentation will examine how the politics and social conditions of late 19th Century New Orleans were integral in the creation of whole new musical culture, and how that culture spread throughout the United States. An emphasis will be placed on the people who created Jazz, how that music spread rapidly throughout the United States, the conditions that led young people of the 30s and 40s to embrace it, and its patriotic use for a war weary nation.


Presentation Four:

Labor and Radical Politics: The Music of Joe Hill and the IWW


This presentation with examine how a radical labor organization was able to integrate music, art and politics to create a unique form of political and social protest. It will focus a great deal on the music and execution of one of its leading poets and songwriters, Joe Hill. Using recorded music and still images the presentation will thoroughly examine the radical labor politics and sabotage activities of the IWW, including the strikes in Lawrence MA and Patterson NJ. Throughout the presentation connections will be made between the music of the IWW with the labor music of today; as well as the musical attitude of Joe Hill with that of later twentieth musical troubadours and troublemakers.


Presentation Five:

Troubadours and Troublemakers: The Music and Politics of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan


This presentation with examine three of the greatest protest singers of the twentieth Century: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Using recorded music, film clips and still images, we will take an American journey through history and geography. We will start by using music to examine the social and economic conditions of the Great Depression as we follow Woody Guthrie through the Dust Bowl. We will then travel across the United States as Woody works his way to New York City where we meet Peter Seeger. We’ll leave Woody to follow the travels of Pete as he sings his way through the American heartland, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights movement and the 1950s folk revival where we meet Bob Dylan. We will then leave Pete to examine Dylan’s songs that outlines the social and political conditions in the 60s. We will examine Dylan’s evolution to rock and roll and end with his classic performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.



Presentation Six:

Affirmation and Integration: Rock and Roll and the Rise of Youth Culture


This presentation with examine the birth of Rock and Roll in the late forties and early fifties, the social and economic conditions of that era, the many creators of this new genre of musical expression, the messages they were trying to convey, and how it evolved into many different forms of “rock” music. Using recorded music, film clips and still images the presentation will examine the idea that Rock and Roll music did more to integrate America than any law or politician. We will use music to examine the social and political conditions that existed in the United States following World War II, how Rock and Roll originated as “race music” and evolved into the mainstream, the many creators of this music (such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis), and the many genres that evolved from the root of Rock and Roll.



Presentation Seven:

Swinging Our Way to Victory: American Popular Music of the World War II Era


​This audio visual presentation will review American popular music from the World War II Era.  Beginning with the Tin Pan Alley, Minstrel and Jazz music so popular in the 1920s and 30s, this presentation will examine how the subject matter, style and purpose of American music changed with the eruption of war in Europe and Asia and the impact here at home.  By reviewing American popular music of the World War II era, we will also be examining issues of race, gender, economics and religion in American culture at a time when these issues were just beginning to explode into the American consciousness.