Deciphering Culture

“The Neglected History of the West Coast Blues”

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SYLLABUS

CLASS 1: INTRODUCTION: COURSE OVERVIEW / HOW TO LISTEN

An overview of the course and a quick introduction to the West Coast Blues followed by directed listening exercises (a core component of this course). Students will be introduced to techniques for honing their listening skills through attention to musical elements, physical and emotional reactions, and suppositions about the social/cultural setting of the music.

CLASS 2: WHAT IS THE BLUES? / BLUES HISTORY

The history and musical/cultural roots of blues, the poetry of the blues, the musical characteristics of the blues, and the geography of the blues.

CLASS 3: THE BLUES COME TO THE WEST COAST

The West Coast Blues developed as a distinct style due to the World War II migration of African Americans to California. This session discusses that migration and the musical styles that influenced the development of the West Coast Blues. [Special guest: Ronnie Stewart, Executive Director of the Bay Area Blues Society]

CLASS 4: LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles was the birthplace of the West Coast Blues. This session discusses the emergence of a “ballad style” piano blues and changes in the blues song form that led to the development of Rhythm & Blues. [Special Guest: TBA]

CLASS 5: THE BLUES MOVES UP THE COAST

The Blues moved up the coast from Los Angeles. By the late 1940s, thriving nightclub districts were established in West Oakland and North Richmond, and a number of influential recording artists helped establish an “Oakland Blues” style. A “Chitlin’ Circuit” of smaller club districts ran up the Coast and the Valley connecting the three major club districts in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. [Special guest filmmaker Scott Pearson or Robert Goss of Past & Present Media will discuss “The Russell City Blues,” a documentary they are filming on a community near Hayward that was home to a blues nightclub district.]

CLASS 6: LEGACY OF THE WEST COAST BLUES

By the late ‘60s, the West Coast Blues had faded from popularity but its legacy lived on in the influence it had had on the development of Rhythm & Blues, Soul, modern Urban Blues, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. This session examines the legacy of the West Coast Blues, the reasons for its loss of popularity and the effects the closing of Blues nightclub districts had on African American communities in California.

Appendix 1: Annotated Discography & Some Suggested Reading

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

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