If there were such a thing as an academic rock star, Duke University’s Mark Anthony Neal would be one. Neal is a professor, hip-hop scholar, and author, who is a highly-sought after cultural critic. News outlets like the Huffington Postand WUNC regularly tap Neal, Chair of Duke’s African and African American Studies and founder of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship, for cultural commentary – as do we. Locally, Neal is known for developing The History of Hip-Hop,a popular course he co-teaches with critically acclaimed hip-hop producer Patrick Douthit, aka 9thWonder, at Duke.
Neal and Douthit have taught the class together since 2010. The course explores the social and cultural history of hip-hop and its current global, economic and socio-political impact.
On any given night, students might engage with a Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist like Rapsody or leading cultural preservationist from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Readers if you’re having a bit of FOMO– note that this course is open to the public.
One cold, rainy Wednesday evening last March, the Come Hear NC team traveled to the campus of Duke University to document the class. On that evening Neal and Duke political science doctoral candidate Nura Sediqe led a lecture about hip-hop and violence, ghetto pathologies, and misogyny.
Sediqe, who studies the political behavior of radicalized minorities, says “Hip-hop and the productions that emerge from it have been such an important source of knowledge for me. Political expressions emerge in meaningful ways in the lyrics, visual production and stories within the art. As political scientists, I think it’s important that more of us pay attention to hip-hop as a source to inform us of the various ways that minorities are politically conscious and engaged.”
Hip-hop, which began as a grassroots music movement in the Bronx, is now a global force, and throughout the semester Neal, Douthit and an assortment of guest lecturers unpack many facets of the genre’s history and current reality – which often tie into cultural and political movements beyond the music itself.
“Though the course is branded as a history of Hip-Hop—for most students the course serves as a history of 20th century Black cultural and political history,” says Neal
Take a look at the full course below.
Does the advent of spring have you revisiting some of your 2019 New Year’s Resolutions? If learning how to play music is on the list – this is for you! North Carolina boasts a variety of places to learn music, and below you’ll find a list of some of the special places to further your music education.
Brevard Music Festival & Summer Institute
Brevard Music Center, Brevard, N.C.
The Brevard Music Festival is a 10-week summer event dedicated to the next generation of gifted, young musicians. Every summer distinguished faculty from the nation’s leading orchestras, colleges and conservatories train more than 500 students who present over 80 concerts, encompassing multiple music genres to more than 40,000 fans from across the country. Over the past 80 years, BMC has welcomed world-class soloists including Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and other talented virtuosi.
Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week
Mars Hill College, Mars Hill, N.C.
June 9 to 15, 2019
The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains are the setting for this week-long learning event every June. Nationally celebrated old-time music instructors lead intimate and affordable classes for all levels of skill along with daily concerts and jam sessions. Courses include: Fiddle, Banjo, Guitar, Rhythm and Repertoire, Bass, Mandolin, Singing, Dulcimer, and Dancing.
John C. Campbell Folk School
Surrounded by mountains, the 372-acre Folk School provides experiences in non-competitive learning that are joyful and enlivening. Adults of all ages can take year-round, week-long and weekend classes in folk music and dance. The school also is home to the History Center, which provides an overview of Appalachian culture and traces the history of the school from its beginning in 1925 and hosts a concert series, community dances, and special events.
Workshops at the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention
Old-Time Workshops Veterans Memorial Park, Mount Airy, N.C.
Friday, June 6, 2019, 2 p.m
Every year, old-time music lovers gather in Surry County to celebrate the area’s historic Round Peak old-time music tradition, popularized by Tommy Jarrell, Charlie Lowe, and Fred Cockerham. The workshops at the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention, hosted by the Surry Arts Council with support from the N.C. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, will be led by award-winning old-time and bluegrass musicians from the area who participate in the Blue Ridge Music Trails.
Warren Wilson College, Asheville, N.C.
July 30 through August 3, 2019
The Swannanoa Gathering is an educational program of the college, consisting of a series of week-long workshops in various folk arts held in July and August on the campus of the college, located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Workshops are offered in fiddle, mandolin and banjo, traditional song, Celtic music, old-time music, guitar and contemporary folk arts.
Eastern Music Festival
Guilford College, Greensboro, N.C.
Eastern Music Festival is an outstanding educational experience for talented, dedicated, young artists between the ages of 14 and 23. For 5 weeks each summer over the past 57 years, EMF places some of the world’s most exciting musical mentors with exceptional young artists to foster a new generation of musicians. The faculty and musicians are teaching artists of the highest order - and their annual student population of 200+ is extraordinary. This is one of America's finest orchestral, piano, conducting and classical guitar studies programs.
Jazz Arts Initiative
Spearheaded by the talented husband and wife duo, woodwind player, Lonnie Davis, and percussionist, Ocie Davis, The Jazz Arts Initiative, is cultivating the next generation of jazz musicians. Jazz Arts Initiative offers education-based programming through its JAI Jazz Academy workshops and summer camps – which develops young musicians so talented that jazz professionals play alongside them in concerts throughout the city. The Jazz Academy includes in-school programs, free community master classes, jazz youth ensembles, and summer jazz camps. Students are taught by prestigious local, regional, and international jazz educators and performing artists. Some of JAI’s past guest clinicians have included NEA Jazz Master Award recipients and internationally renowned artists/educators Delfeayo Marsalis and Jamey Aebersold.
March is Music in Our Schools Month, and we celebrated by live streaming a concert featuring the North Davidson High School Chamber Choir on Wednesday, March 13. It is one of four free concerts presented by the North Carolina Music Educators Association’s every Wednesday through March 27 to celebrate Music in Our Schools Month.
The choir performance featured Miss America 2019, Nia Imani Franklin, a North Carolina native and North Davidson High School alum, who attended and performed. Franklin has been a teacher and music mentor, and has written over 100 songs, including one she began performing at age of five.
Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS) is a statewide network of afterschool programs created by the North Carolina Arts Council in response to community requests for traditional arts education that is taught locally, knee-to-knee and across generations. TAPS programs across the state represent the diversity of North Carolina’s cultural life and heritage. Each program is uniquely shaped by its community, but all share three core values:
• Programs are affordable, and often free.
• Students learn the traditional arts of their own region, from teachers within their community.
• Music is taught by ear, and crafts are taught by hand.
The traditional artists leading each TAPS program teach more than the arts; they imbue their instruction with the cultural attitudes and values that have upheld and enlivened generations of families and neighbors in their regions. TAPS instructors share affection and respect for the traditions that have shaped their lives, and that now shape the lives of the next generation.
Over the Mountains
The mountains of Western North Carolina are the birthplace of TAPS, where the cultures of indigenous Cherokee, enslaved and free African Americans, and European settlers laid the fertile ground of Appalachian music and dance.
Many TAPS programs in mountain counties are part of Junior Appalachian Musicians Inc. (JAM), founded in 2000 by an Alleghany County guidance counselor at Sparta School named Helen White. JAM laid the groundwork for the TAPS model, and today JAM programs can be found teaching traditional Appalachian music and dance across the mountain south.
TAPS students in JAM classes across the mountains have gone on to start their own string bands, perform professionally across the state, and even return to teach the classes they once took.
Across the Piedmont
The NC Arts Council’s Folklife Program expanded the JAM model to include other forms of traditional arts across the entire state, creating TAPS to help preserve and perpetuate all of North Carolina’s traditional arts and music.
The clay-rich hills around Seagrove, North Carolina are home to the nation’s longest continual pottery tradition. The TAPS program at the North Carolina Pottery Center teaches the generations-old practice of hand-turned pottery that has defined the area since the 1700s. Students learn at the wheel of artists like Sid Luck, a NC Heritage Award recipient, whose family has thrown pots in Seagrove for six generations and counting.
At Raleigh’s Triangle Korean School (pictured above), TAPS students celebrate the culture of one of the fastest-growing communities of new North Carolinians through traditional Korean drumming, cultural etiquette, and K-Pop, a cornerstone of Korean culture’s international identity.
Into the Coastal Plain
Where the Piedmont meets the Coastal Plain in Halifax and Warren Counties, the TAPS program of the Haliwa-Saponi Indian tribe teaches tribal arts to the next generation. As students, and even their parents, learn to wrap drum sticks, build pottery, and create powwow regalia, they express pride in themselves and their people.
In the urban hubs of Eastern North Carolina, where a legacy of African American jazz, funk, R&B and gospel holds strong, TAPS programs in Greenville and Kinston are dedicated to their region’s African American musical heritage. A long line of devoted high school music teachers and educators have traditionally passed this music from one generation to the next. In Kinston and Greenville, TAPS keeps this tradition of mentorship alive.
TAPS allows the power of the traditional arts to bring creativity, meaning, and structure to the lives of young people, and to help them understand the grassroots brilliance of the places they call home. Today, the North Carolina Arts Council funds 22 TAPS programs based in 21 counties. To learn more about TAPS, visit https://www.ncarts.org/education/traditional-arts-programs-students.
Born and raised in Garner, N.C., Williams grew up spending summer with her grandparents in Smithfield, N.C. Music was an integral part of her daily life – her father was a quartet singer and her grandmother was always singing.
“When her heart was heavy there were times when she would just be moaning,” says Williams. “Those songs gave her the tenacity when she was called names, when she was treated disrespectfully. It was like she was really telling me don’t allow what people say to you to be a blocking of you going further but use it as a stepping stone.”
In a typical performance, Williams weaves together African American spirituals from the Civil War era with more modern anthems of the Civil Rights Movement, connecting generations of music and social change.
“The African American slaves talked about the power of the music. It was a way of communicating something over and above what the overseer could understand. The slave community understood exactly what every song meant. It was a way of escape,” says Williams. “The thing about the songs of the enslaved is that they always looked upward. I’m not in slavery, but there are still issues and concerns of our day and trials and tribulations…and the power of a song is a way that you can deliver your own soul.”
Williams first experimented with combining music and history in a concert inspired by writer and scholar Tim Tyson’s book Blood Done Sign My Name. Tyson witnessed the performance and was moved to tears. The two ultimately began teaching a class together at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University called “The South in Black and White.” At the beginning of every class, Williams opens the session with music.
“I think people are fascinated not just with the history but [by] the fact that when I present they get to join in. There’s an experience we are all having together,” says Williams. “We develop a community.”
When asked what makes North Carolina music special, Williams says, “North Carolina just has such a presence. We have a lot of history. It is complicated, but in that complication, songs have come up out of it. It came up out of the burden. It comes up out of sorrow, joy, and happiness. It comes up out of family, and I think that’s what makes people feel it. You’re not just singing something as an empty shell. You literally have lived it, and then you’re able to share it. That, again, makes a community.”