Desegregating the Airwaves: Blues on the Radio
The following lesson is designed to be used after viewing all or part of Episode Two of American Roots Music. The lesson deals with the emergence of the blues as a form of popular music on the radio, beginning in Helena, Arkansas in 1940. It is appropriate for high school Music or Social Studies classes. It can also be used in English classes if emphasis is placed on the oral history interview with B.B. King.
Students will be able to:
Understand and discuss the relationship between technological and social change.
Discuss how the popularity of the blues spread as a result of radio.
Analyze and discuss how music can be a tool for desegregation and cultural understanding.
One 40-60 minute class period
Content Standard #9
Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning
- Students classify by genre or style and by historical period or culture unfamiliar but representative aural examples of music and explain the reasoning behind their classifications
- Students identify sources of American music genres (e.g., swing, Broadway musical, blues) trace the evolution of those genres, and cite well-known musicians associated with them
- Students identify various roles (e.g., entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition) that musicians perform, cite representative individuals who have functioned in each role, and describe their activities and achievements
- Understand the relationship between music and history and culture (Music).
Episode Two of American Roots Music
B.B. King interview in Oral Histories section of American Roots Music website [not required for lesson, but useful as background information for teacher, and as suggestion for students to learn more about the blues]
Before viewing, ask students the following questions:
What types of programs are there on the radio? How are they different from each other?
Do all kinds of music get the same amount of exposure on the radio? Which kinds get the most? Which kinds get the least?
How can listening to the music made by a cultural group help you understand their life experience?
What do you know about the blues? Why do most people know what the blues is? Have all kinds of people always been able to hear blues music? Why or why not?
View segment of Episode Two of American Roots Music, beginning at 39:40, until 48:10.
After viewing, ask students the following questions:
What impact would a popular radio program featuring black blues musicians have had in the racially segregated South?
Try and imagine yourself as an African American in the segregated South of the 1940s. How would it have felt to hear the blues on the radio? Why?
What kinds of music might we not know about today if blues hadn't become popular through the radio?
Do you know of any musical genre that isn't featured on mainstream radio? Why do you think this is the case?