Cab Calloway, Earl Scruggs, Aretha Franklin, Berry Gordy, Itzhak Perlman, Max Roach, and more...
I'm willing to guess that a great majority of our students know very little about this year's Grammy Life Time Achievement Award Recipients. What better reason to use the Grammy Awards as a means for exploring the rich history of American music with your students.
How about the stirring medley performance of Gospel music by artists such as Aretha Franklin, the Clark Sisters, and a few others I couldn't find specific information on. The performance shed light on the inextricable connections between the great Soul and R&B artists of our time and their musical upbringings in the church. It also brought attention to the significance church music has had on popular music...Well beyond that of Soul and R&B. Seeing that February is Black History Month, I'd say it is absolutely necessary that we, as music educators, share with our students the incredibly pivotal contributions of black music to the fabric of the American sound.
What about Beyonce's introduction to Tina Turner's performance that payed homage to some of the great female singers of our day? She referenced Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Mahalia Jackson, Anita Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Gladys Knight, Nancy Wilson, Janet Jackson (Really???), Whitney Houston (Okay...I can deal with that...I think.), and, of course, Tina Turner. While taking in this particular segment of the Awards ceremony, I got to thinking that this might be a great entry point into introducing some of the great African American female singers of the last 50 some odd years.
So this is what I did....
I found a clip of Beyonce's introduction to Tina Turner's performance on You Tube and set out to write a lesson plan revolved around the artists Beyonce referenced in her performance.
Short of actually outlining the lesson plan for you, I will tell you this. Only 1 of over 30 of my students knew of Sarah Vaughn. And it was only because her dad had played Vaughn's albums every so often. None of them guessed the Nancy (Wilson) reference. No one even knew of a musician with the same first name. And when I had them place the artists (mind you with only the knowledge they currently had...all prior to actual research of the artists) in a time line from when they made a splash on the music scene, some actually placed Aretha Franklin before Ella Fitzgerald!!! I even played short clips of each musician's music and encouraged my students to consider the instrumental elements and overall sound of each to help them place where in the time line of American musical history each musician belonged to.
Knowing that my students knew so little and implementing an experience in which they could learn more was enough to have made this lesson worth executing.
I encourage you to check out the video link above and toy with the idea of using it to formulate some lesson plan for your music class.
Note: Know that I completely understand a teacher's decision to not use the video as a result of the "inappropriate" outfits worn by Beyonce and her backup dancers/singers. I teach at what I consider to be a liberal public school institution in which the belief that censorship blinds is one that the great majority of teachers and administrators support and uphold.