The Black and Blues: Blues, Jazz and the Politics of Race

Blues and Jazz music are often touted as America’s original art form, yet their dark origins are often overlooked. We will travel south through the Delta along the Mississippi River to learn about the history of these musical genres, focusing on their complicated racial past rooted in slavery and segregation. From Memphis through Mississippi to New Orleans, in the area known as the cradle of blues and jazz, we explore how blues and jazz came to simultaneously embody oppression, exploitation, empowerment, and resistance.

Learning Objectives

Develop an understanding of the complex relationship between the exploitation of blues and jazz musicians and the proliferation of the genres in mainstream music.
Demonstrate critical consciousness about the debates around black or white ownership of blues and jazz in the U.S.
Deepen the understanding of the role of blues and jazz as a form of protest and empowerment for slaves and activists during the Civil Rights Movement.

Places and Activities

This program is flexible and can be offered in 5, or 7-day itineraries.

Upon arrival in Memphis, TN, students will visit the “Home of the Blues”, a prominent stage during the Civil Rights Movement. There are explorations of the Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street and Sun Studio, and introducing students to the social justice issues surrounding blues.

Then travelling south through Mississippi, students will be visiting a plantation said to be the birthplace of blues. Delving into the impact of slavery and make connections to modern blues at Fat Possum Records.

Spending the remainder of our program in New Orleans, exploring the oldest African American neighbourhoods and establishments in the country,
learning about activism in this region and the origins of jazz.

A ‘ceremonial closing’ is held in the Congo Square, the birthplace of jazz. Students discuss how their experiences and learnings will influence their own perspectives on music, culture, and identity.

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