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Unit information: African-American Music in the 20th Century in 2020/21

Unit name African-American Music in the 20th Century
Unit code MUSI30105
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Williams
Open unit status Not open

Some knowledge of musical literacy will be useful for discussing and interpreting repertoire and for coursework.



School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit surveys a history of African-American music in the long twentieth century. Styles will include rural blues, Dixieland jazz, electric blues, swing, bebop, free jazz, funk, hip-hop and developments in rock (e.g. Hendrix) and classical music (e.g. William Grant Still). In addition to an investigation of the social and political contexts of these styles, the unit will look at a number of theoretical applications to the study of ‘black music’ (Gates, Floyd, Stuckey, Maultsby) and critiques of such an approach (Tagg).

This unit aims:

1. to give students an opportunity to expand the breadth of their historical knowledge through the study of optional subjects;

2. to expand their knowledge of the associated musical repertoire and to be able to comment accurately and perceptively on matters of style, structure and context;

3. to develop their ability to assemble and assimilate information from a wide variety of sources;

4. to engage in critical evaluation of texts about music;

5. to develop effective and detailed arguments, both orally and in writing;

6. to display competence in the practices, processes, techniques and methodologies that underpin musicological practice

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, a successful student will be able to:

(1) demonstrate good knowledge of the social and political history of the United States (1877-);

(2) demonstrate familiarity with the various forms of African-American musics in the long twentieth century and describe their primary features with confidence;

(3) write critically and perceptively about questions of race, style and appropriation in African-American music;

(4) write critically and perceptively about theories and debates surrounding ‘black music’, using appropriate language and terminology.

And additionally (specific to Level H) to:

(5) display to a high level skills in evaluating, synthesising and (where relevant) challenging scholarly thinking on this topic, including evidence of a high level of bibliographical control;

(6) engage with and critique the theoretical constructs that underpin different scholarly interpretations of music of this period.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including lectures and self-directed exercises.

Assessment Details

Blogposts (year 2: 500 words each, year 3: 600 words each) ILOs 1-5 and essay (year 2: 2500 word, year 3:3000 word) ILOs 1-5

Reading and References

  • Floyd, Samuel, The Power of Black Music (New York: Oxford University Press USA, 1996)
  • Jones, LeRoi (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (London: Harper Perennial, 1999, originally published 1963)
  • Maultsby, Portia K. and Mellonee V. Burnim, eds., African American Music: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2005)
  • Ramsey, Guthrie, Race Music: Black Music Cultures from Bebop to Hip-hop (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)
  • Rose, Tricia, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1994)
  • Southern, Eileen, The Music of Black Americans:A History, 3rd edition (London: W.W. Norton, 1997)