6 posts from February 2016

February 29, 2016

Listening to Beethoven in and through The King’s Speech

Jonathan Godsall (Worcestershire, UK)

It is common for filmmakers to use pre-existing music, both within the stories of their films and as part of the narration of those stories (that is, both diegetically and non-diegetically). We can study these uses not only for what the music brings to the film, but also for what it takes away. A filmmaker’s use of pre-existing music is an interpretation of that music, which is then relayed to us, the film’s audience. Films can therefore influence how we listen to and think about music that might have already been very familiar.

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February 22, 2016

James Brown and B.B. King: Mourning and Migration

Carrie Allen Tipton (Houston, TX)


A parade of mourners follows B.B. King’s hearse during his funeral procession on May 27, 2015.


When blues guitarist and singer B.B. King (b. 1925) died in May 2015, fans mourned his death and celebrated his life at two large public events. On May 27, the hearse carrying his casket began its two-state journey on Memphis’s Beale Street, one of several symbolic “birthplace-of-the-blues” locales claimed by communities throughout the U.S. South. A parade of mourners—some singing, dancing, or playing instruments—accompanied the hearse, as shown in the video above. Over the next two days, the hearse crept down Highway 61 to Indianola, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta, where a public viewing was held on May 29 at the B.B. King Museum. The next day, King’s casket finally wound up at a small church in Indianola for the funeral service. The implications were clear: B.B. King may have hailed from the rural Mississippi Delta, but his biography also encompassed a specific urban space: the African American neighborhoods of Memphis, where he first caught national attention in the early 1950s with his WDIA radio broadcasts. 

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February 17, 2016

The Avid Listener Digest, February 2016

To help readers navigate the growing list of essays published on The Avid Listener, we've created a downloadable "digest." In it, you'll find links to all our content—organized by category—as well as information on upcoming features. Check it out, and keep coming back for more!

Download The Avid Listener Digest February 2016

February 16, 2016

Coca-Cola Goes to the Opera: Lillian Nordica’s Celebrity Endorsements

Kristen M. Turner (North Carolina State University)

In 2013, Taylor Swift debuted a commercial for Diet Coke. The ad is a collage of shots that alternate between Swift composing her hit, “22,” and different fans in a series of mundane locations singing the tune. We hear Swift’s music, not as it appears on the radio, but as a union of her image and creativity, and the voices of regular Americans. A can of Diet Coke is always by Swift’s side, and the commercial ends with her walking on stage to perform the song. The message of the ad is clear—Diet Coke is hip, young, and inspires its users (like Swift) but is still perfect for regular folks who can only dream of a life similar to that led by the beautiful and youthful pop star.

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February 8, 2016

Music and the Public Mourning of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston

Carrie Allen Tipton (Houston, TX)

With the deaths of Michael Jackson (1958–2009) and Whitney Houston (1963–2012), two of the brightest stars in the popular music firmament of the 1980s and 1990s flamed out. They shared much in common. In the early and mid-1980s, when MTV was still a major arbiter of youthful musical tastes, their videos received heavy play—at the time, a rarity for artists of color. Both artists released fundamentally optimistic music, resonant with the buoyancy felt by certain segments of the United States during the Reagan years, before 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and the deepening political, economic, and cultural schisms that ushered in the new century. Both artists built on the legacies of iconic African-American musical styles and genres. Jackson hailed from a dance-inflected funk, hard soul, and R&B background, while Houston extended the tradition of the regal gospel-soul diva. And in the early 2000s, after a decade of critical and popular success, both artists experienced increasingly acute, widely publicized personal difficulties. When these struggles culminated in Jackson’s and Houston’s drug-related deaths within three years of each other, the world was left to mourn artists whose star-texts comprised spectacular artistic successes and enormous personal burdens. Their memorial services, broadcast globally to millions of viewers, were important focal points for the public grieving of these complex figures. At these events, music encompassed and helped reconcile the conflicting aspects of their public personas, leaving fans with final, powerful sonic impressions of each star. 

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Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis

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