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Music, Civil Rights, and Counterculture: Critical Aesthetics and Resistance in the United States, 1957-1968

BARKER, THOMAS,PATRICK (2016) Music, Civil Rights, and Counterculture: Critical Aesthetics and Resistance in the United States, 1957-1968. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This dissertation explores the role of music within the politics of liberation in the United States in the period of the late 1950s and the 1960s. Its focus is on the two dominant, but very different (and, it is argued, interconnected) mass political and cultural movements that converged in the course of the 1960s: civil rights and counterculture. Divergent tendencies in the popular musics of the period, which were drawn into the orbits of these two movements, are considered in the context of tensions between political commitment and aesthetic autonomy, between the call for collective political action and the pull of individualism, and between existing political reality and the utopian perspectives offered by art. The theoretical approach derives largely from critical theory (in particular Adorno, Bloch, and Marcuse), and the thesis argues that by tending toward autonomy and individualism popular musics in this period articulated a vision of society that was radically different from existing political realities.

The study situates itself in the existing literature on protest music, but seeks to take this further by examining the complexity of responses in music of this period to protest and liberation movements beyond protest songs and politically committed music to discuss issues of social critique and critical reflection. After an initial consideration of what might be meant by the categories ‘protest music’ and socially or politically engaged music, considering among others the work of Eyerman and Jamison (1998), Mattern (1998), Roy (2010), Street (2011), and in particular Denisoff (1968), notions of political engagement and autonomy are discussed in relation to Adorno (1970) and Marcuse (1977). Subsequent chapters then function as case studies of particular tendencies as well as considering significant figures in the music of the period in the context of liberation, civil rights, Black Power, the counterculture, and the New Left. The Highlander Folk School is considered for the ways that it used music to foreground a collective political identity that was subverted by the needs of individual activists; Bob Dylan is examined in light of his retreat from collective political projects and his move toward aesthetic individualism that was nevertheless met with an increase in his perceived relevance to the liberation movements; John Coltrane for his experiments with autonomous music, despite the bitter political realities faced by many African Americans; and Frank Zappa, whose music, it is argued, attempted to stimulate a form of critical self-reflection amongst his audience.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:music; counterculture; US; jazz; Highlander; Coltrane; Zappa; Dylan; Adorno; Frankfurt; 1960s; 1950s
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:26 Jul 2016 11:39

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