I Feel For You: Rock History Matters


On the cusp of the news that the amazing, all original, binary blurring rock artist, Prince’s death, I wanted to write this post as an ode to the late, great musician.

Henry Haynes states, “To define Rock n’ Roll music as black blues and rhythm-and-blues music mixed together with gospel music and white country music is far too simplistic. There was a cross-fertilization of the Southern music forms long before rock came along, and a different definition is necessary. He goes on to say that rock music is beat-oriented music that in its origins embraced the newly-created electric guitar as its primary instrument for melody. Rock music usually has youth-oriented lyrics dealing with romance, the pangs of young love, cars, surfing, and school problems to name a few.”

Prince was influencer, an originator, he blended rock, blues, jazz, soul, and more through his lyrics and instrumentals. He challenged the norms and expanded the definition of rock and roll music. His fingerprints have been left on so many musicians that we listen to today and will continue to hear in the future. His death is a tremendous loss.

As a teacher of Rock History, I wanted to share different activities that teachers can have their students complete to learn more about the power of rock and roll music and its influence on history, socio economics, and pop culture.

  1. Rock and Roll Musical Tree of Influence – We have all created at one time a family tree to trace our ancestors. What if we selected a popular musician today and traced their musical influences as far back as the birth of rock and roll? Who would Beyonce and Justin Bieber have as musical influencers from the 80s, 70s, and 60s?  After researching their favorite musician, students create a semantic map using Bubbl.us illustrating the musical influences of popular artists today. Bonus points are given for students who are able to trace musical influences as far back as the roots of rock and roll: Gospel, Country, Rhythm & Blues, African Music, Boogie Woogie & Swing, and Jazz.
  2. The Economics of the Music IndustryNPR’s Planet Money describe the economics of producing a Katy Perry Album. Who is getting paid in addition to the artist? How much money does it cost to make a hit album and how much do music companies profit from hit records?
  3. Themes in Music – Just as we read literature and discuss theme, what are some of the themes in music today? Students can research and create a wiki page or presentation that addresses one particular theme in music today (For example, the role of women as singers and songwriters, shock rock, teenage idols, country pop cross-overs, boy band resurgence, etc.) Students should offer direct evidence from song lyrics and artists who fall into this theme. Students are essentially writing an analysis and interpretation of this theme using music as a text to support their claim.
  4. Rap Masters Anthology of Rap – The Yale Anthology of Rap (2010) edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, highlights some of the greatest rappers of the past thirty years. It is not necessarily an encyclopedia of rap artists, but rather covers the great poetic traditions of the written word of rap music from the beginning (think Grand Master Flash) to highlight the golden era of rap music in the 1980s to include present day word artists. If you were one of the advisory board members for this anthology’s second edition who would you nominate to be included and why?

    Students write a proposal nominating a rap artist to be included in the revised edition of The Yale Anthology of Rap. The proposal includes:
    (1) The artist that you are nominating (please note that it should be a different artists then in the first edition) – be sure to include pictures and a brief bio about the artist.
    (2) Choose three or more songs that they sing – Remember you are focusing on these artists as masters of the word, poets, and great rappers. Include the lyrics of each of the songs you are choosing.
    (3) Write an analysis of each of the songs. Your analysis should include what the song is about , what about the lyrics makes it a great, the poetic forms the rapper uses, how this rap is different than other artists, and a reflection on the depth and power of the words.
    (4) Works Cited – You need to reference everything that you get on the internet. This includes pictures, music lyrics, videos, and any other ideas that you take from another website.

  5. Musical Influencers Across the Decades Digital Storytelling Project – Who are the trailblazers, the perpetuators, and the ones who have and will leave a lasting legacy on music history. It is their creative impact that matters rather than popularity. Therefore, the main focus will be channeled on the artists and genres that have made the greatest creative impact in their respective periods. For this project students choose either an artist or music group  who were trailblazers OR  focus on a particular music genre that has made a lasting legacy. Students research and create a digital story highlighting and artist or genre  that has left an imprint on rock and roll history.

To see more projects that address rock and roll history and see samples of student work you can visit my wiki page http://rockwritelisten.wikispaces.com

Image from https://media.gq.com/photos/5719149cbf3a8ba177b0f08f/3:2/w_800/prince-obit-01b.jpg

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