Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Go Back To School With Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton
Gather your notebooks, pencils and metronomes. It's back-to-school time. How is your schedule looking? Anything fun, interesting or musical?
Speaking of music, we wouldn't be surprised if you found a course based on a famous musician among your class list, since more colleges are now offering courses based on artists as a vehicle to discuss everything from music to identity to politics. For example, you could discuss feminism through the lens of Beyoncé and Rihanna, or review Appalachian culture with Dolly Parton or learn the magic of harmony with Stevie Wonder.
School's back in for fall and we've rounded up nine college classes featuring artists that would make studying and cramming for exams a lot more fun.
With her star shining from rural Appalachia all the way to Hollywood, it's fitting there is now a college course celebrating this GRAMMY winner's rise to stardom. "Dolly's America," a history honors course at the University of Tennessee, examines how Appalachia is portrayed in pop culture through the lens of Parton's career. Students study Parton's 1994 autobiography Dolly: My Life And Other Unfinished Business along with TV shows such as "The Beverly Hillbillies" and films such as Coal Miner's Daughter.
From the girl voted in High School 'least likely to succeed' this sure is a blessing! https://t.co/3EnB8ixB4f
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) April 10, 2017
One of the top GRAMMY winners of all time, Beyoncé's complex and definitive music is ripe for college course material. University of Texas at San Antonio rose to the occasion with an English course focusing on Beyoncé's GRAMMY winner for Best Urban Contemporary Album, Lemonade. Students in the class "Black Women, Beyoncé And Popular Culture" examine the "theoretical, historical and literary frameworks of black feminism" by covering the album track-by-track.
Bonus course: Rutgers University offers a Beyoncé-based course titled "Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé."
Like many of these college courses, starting class with pop icons offers students a path into complex social and cultural critique in a way that feels fresh and familiar. That's certainly the case with the University of Texas at Austin's "Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism." The course looks at "how the lyrics, music videos and actions of these women express various aspects of black feminism such as violence, economic opportunity, sexuality, standards of beauty, and creative self-expression."
The Beatles have come to define a generation, and their music is a gift that keeps on giving. As a result, several schools offer Beatles-related courses tracking the musical and cultural contributions of the Fab Four. Indiana University offers "The Music Of The Beatles," which delves into critical listening skills while also keeping an appreciation for the Beatles' music alive. At the University of Southern California, "The Beatles: Their Music And Their Times," explores the GRAMMY winners' music, lyrics and irrefutable impact on pop culture — from "Love Me Do" to Let It Be.
With classics like Kind Of Blue and Birth Of The Cool, Davis is one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, and there is much to learn about his contribution to musical style and form. At Berklee College of Music, "The Music Of Miles Davis" tackles just that in the brass department, examining, "the evolution of his playing and writing styles" through studying his "improvised solos, tunes, forms, harmonic practice, and his influence on other performers."
From music to fashion and beyond, there's no question GRAMMY winner West has an impact on everything he touches. Yeezy's reach now extends to the classroom, evidenced by Washington University in St. Louis' African-American studies class, "The Politics Of Kanye West: Black Genius And Sonic Aesthetics." With a mission of dissecting the intersection between fame, gender, sexuality, and race, students have a chance to "explore how racialized ways of doing iconography, complex ways of seeing, creates a distorted or reductive frame through which we see the black and famous." As instructor Jeffrey McClune Jr. said, "The question isn't 'Why teach Kanye West? The question is, 'What does Kanye teach us?'"
The Fame Monster made the curriculum at the University of Virginia in fall 2010 with the course "GaGa For Gaga: Sex, Gender And Identity." An English class used to teach argumentative essay writing, the course asked students to look at how the GRAMMY winner pushes social boundaries with her music and other contributions to pop culture. According to Professor Christa Romanosky, "We're exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge." This sounds like a prerequisite class that should be an annual offering.
Now a Nobel laureate in literature, it seems appropriate Dylan would be the focus of a Harvard University-based English course taught by a professor steeped in the classics. Simply titled "Bob Dylan," the freshman seminar not only sets Dylan as an artist in his time, but also compares him to classic poets such as Virgil and Homer. "He's not just a protest singer, or a pop singer," said Professor Richard F. Thomas, "but a phenomenon who rolls into his art lots of disparate musical, literary and other strands."
From "Superstition" to "My Cherie Amour," the GRAMMY winner's powerful songs have a lot to teach potential music students about melody, rhythm and harmony. That's why Berklee College of Music offers "The Music Of Stevie Wonder" to students who want to not only learn more about Wonder's career, use of technology, recording techniques, and business practices, but also his one-of-a-kind harmonies. By looking at his music at a "granular level," students dig into "Wonder's harmonic language, melodic principles and use of melisma, lyrical approaches and the ways in which these elements support the narrative structure of his compositions."