Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Europeans established communities in and around Chicago. Many were Polish, or were Jews from countries throughout Europe. Both groups fled regional political upheavals and wars, sought religious freedom, and dreamed of upward mobility. By 1930, the Chicago region was home to more than 160,000 Polish-born people and an estimated 350,000 Jews.
The dream of a safer environment and financial mobility was also attractive to blacks from the American South. Between 1910-1970, 6 million African Americans took part in the "Great Migration," fleeing the harsh Jim Crow laws and economic stagnation of the South in pursuit of opportunities in Northern U.S. cities. 500,000 African Americans settled in Chicago, many in the same neighborhoods occupied by Jewish and Polish immigrants. One such area was the Maxwell Street Neighborhood on Chicago's Near West Side.
In Part One and Part Two of this lesson, students consider why people left their homelands and headed to Chicago, then explore how the "Electric Blues" that developed around Maxwell Street might reflect the influence of the disparate groups of people who settled there.
Washington D.C.< Back
In Nashville, Tennessee: Country Music's Capital City, students consider what made Nashville an important place for people in the rural South and Country music in the 1950s and 60s.
This lesson explores the musical legacy of Nashville, Tennessee, Country music's capital city. As early as the 1800s, Nashville emerged as a center for music, whether because of the Fisk Jubilee Singers or the city's growing interests in music publishing. But it was with the first broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1925 that Nashville began to flourish as the home of what would come to be called "Country music." Listeners from all over the rural South heard the music they loved over the radios in their living rooms. What they thought of as their own local culture had become something greater. The musicians among them dreamed of traveling to Nashville to perform on the Opry, which for them was the pinnacle of musical achievement. Students will explore this history through archival photos, maps, and Sonic Highways clips of Dolly Parton and Tony Joe White.
In Los Angeles, The Image Capital of the World, Part One, and Part Two, students consider how the development of Los Angeles and its entertainment industry created an image culture that informed both the character of the city and the experiences of the young people living there.
In Part One of this lesson, students use a clip from Sonic Highways, maps, and historical photography to contrast mid-19th century Los Angeles with the city of New York during the same period. They consider how the a quick farmland-to-city turnover, sudden emergence as a media superpower, and rapidly increasing population might have helped shape the overall character of the region. The included homework prepares students for Part Two of this lesson, in which they consider how the music of 1970s Los Angeles was shaped by the geography and visual culture they explored in Part One.
Part Two of this lesson picks up in the 1950s, as Rock and Roll begins a takeover of American popular culture through radios, jukeboxes, and, increasingly, televisions. Students consider how the image culture of Los Angeles might have also impacted the sound of the city's music and, more specifically have created a space in which the all-female Rock band The Runaways could succeed. Finally, students contrast media coverage of AC/DC and The Runaways and consider how gender affected the language used to describe each.
In Music and Community in New Orleans, students uncover the ways the geography of New Orleans has contributed to its emergence as a major site of American music culture. They watch clips from the Sonic Highways "New Orleans" episode to better understand the city's cosmopolitan history, and how music has become ingrained into the daily culture of the city through traditions such as Mardi Gras and Jazz Funerals.
Drawing from the example set by New Orleans, students then discuss the communal functions musical performance might serve beyond entertainment. Teachers will then lead the class in a "Cultural Steering Committee" role-playing exercise, where groups of students consider ways music and performance may enrich their own communities.
In Civil Disobedience: Fighting Segregation in New Orleans, students learn about the history of segregation in New Orleans, and how select activists enacted their own forms of civil disobedience to confront miscegenation laws in the city.
After reading and discussing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and James Baldwin's "A Letter to My Nephew," students are introduced to three figures who fought segregation in New Orleans: teacher Barbara Henry, musician Dr. John, and Preservation Hall founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe. In groups, students analyze the risks each figure took in their commitments to Civil Rights, and as a class they compare the actions these individuals took to those discussed by Dr. King and James Baldwin. Students then reflect on the possible ways small actions, when done in perpetuity, can enact big changes.
Seattle has been home to a wide range of musicians and bands: Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Heart, The Ventures, the Wailers, The Sonics, and many others. Yet, since the 1990s, the isolated Northwestern city is perhaps best known as being the birthplace of a unique musical style: Grunge. In these two lessons, students consider how Seattle's geography influenced the creation of Grunge, and how, through the efforts of a community of musicians, producers, and visual artists, Grunge became the musical style that defined much of the 1990s.
In Part One of this lesson, students explore the geography surrounding Seattle, investigate the history of the Interstate Highway System, draft a map of their own city, and discuss whether their city might be accessible to traveling musicians.
In Part Two, students delve into the formation of Grunge, and consider how Seattle's isolation created a unique cultural scene that encompassed musicians, record producers, and visual artists. They examine the history of the Sub Pop record label and analyze the photography of Charles Peterson to better understand how the Grunge scene offered something artistically new. Students then work in groups to create their own artistic scene, and brainstorm ways to develop and promote it.
In Punk Rock and Urban Decay in New York City, Part 1, and Part 2, students consider what social and economic forces shaped Downtown New York City during the 1970s, and how the environment of the city might have influenced the region's emerging Punk scene.
In Part One of this lesson, students use footage from the Sonic Highways "New York City" episode, archival photos, advertisements, and more to explore ways the departure of industry, "white flight," and the rise of American suburbs changed the demographics of the region, creating distress, but also possibilities. Students will read an essay by Hilly Kristal, owner of the famed Punk club CBGB and consider how the decline of industry may have inspired a cultural uptick. As homework, students will prepare for Part Two of this lesson by conducting individual research on a band that performed at CBGB.
In Part Two of this lesson, students will view footage of The Ramones and the CBGB club from the Sonic Highways "New York City" episode and consider how the venue and music may reflect what they discovered in Part One of this lesson about the state of Downtown New York in the 1970s. Students will then work in groups, studying images of both "mainstream" Rock and CBGB bands of the era to explore how the landscape of the suburban and urban might be reflected by both.