Aug 29 2012

Michael Jackson & The Black Performance Tradition. Class Starts Tonight!

Category: Academia,Books,VideosSeven @ 12:04 pm


What more fitting time to start a class about Michael Jackson at Duke University than on his birthday? Today is the first day of a course taught by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African American Studies at Duke University. The class is called “Michael Jackson & The Black Performance Tradition”. Required reading includes Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk“, “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown“, and Joseph Vogel’s “Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson“.

Dr. Neal has posted a lot of good material about MJ on his blog and he fairly recently spoke at a conference about how Michael’s upbringing undoubtedly influenced his attitudes towards quite innocently sharing his bed with others – a subject that caused much consternation during his life. Listening to Dr. Neal and others speak about this subject suggests that there has probably been a great cultural misunderstanding about Michael Jackson in this regard – one that cost the man his life and his livelihood. That same YouTube channel also features other videos of Dr. Neal speaking about MJ.

Here’s Dr. Neal explaining a likely reason why for Michael, sharing his bed was an innocent, normal thing:

Motown’s Bobby Taylor also spoke about sharing his bed with Michael when he was a child:

The class syllabus is as follows:

Michael Jackson & The Black Performance Tradition
Department of African & African American Studies
Duke University
AAAS 334-01
Fall 2012
Wednesday 6:15 pm – 8:45 pm
White Lecture Hall, 107

Mark Anthony Neal, Ph.D.

Course Description

The central premise of ‘Michael Jackson and Black Performance Tradition’ is the question, “Where did Michael Jackson come from?” While there are facts—he was born on August 29, 1958 in a Rust Belt city named Gary, Indiana—what the course aims to answer are the broader questions of Jackson’s cultural, social, political and even philosophical origins. The course will specifically examine the Black Performance context(s) that produced Jackson’s singular creative genius within the realms of music, movement and politics, including the influence of Black vernacular practices like signifying and sampling, the network of Black social spaces known as the Chitlin’ Circuit, the impact of Black migration patterns to urban spaces in the Midwest (like Gary, Chicago and Detroit—all critical to Jackson’s artistic development) and Black performance traditions including Blackface minstrelsy. In addition the course will examine the social constructions of Blackness and gender (Black masculinity) through the prism of Michael Jackson’s performance, highlighting his role as a trickster figure with the context of African-American vernacular practices.


The Last ‘Darky’: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy & the African Diaspora | Louis Chude-Sokei

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown | RJ Smith

Moonwalk | Michael Jackson

Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson | Joseph Vogel

On Michael Jackson | Margo Jefferson

Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop | Guthrie P. Ramsey

*Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009 | J. Randy Taraborrelli


More details on this class can be found here:

I haven’t checked but I suspect the class is very full with a long waiting list, and may be part of a larger curriculum of study. Who wouldn’t love to just sit in on this class even with no credit given? It’s bound to be fascinating and enlightening and it’s so very exciting to see universities of Duke’s stature taking up the study of Michael Jackson’s life, art, and cultural influence.

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7 Responses to “Michael Jackson & The Black Performance Tradition. Class Starts Tonight!”

  1. Studying Michael Jackson says:

    […] A friend and fellow researcher (Seven Bowie) has compiled some of his previous material on MJ on her blog. This year also saw the publication of a special issue on Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson: […]

  2. Seven says:

    Thank you David!

  3. sanemjfan says:

    Seven, here is an hour long interview with Dr. Mark Anthony Neal from August 2009, where he discussed th legacy of MJ:

  4. aldebaran says:

    Thanks for posting this, Seven. Another thing about the bed sharing is that Michael used his bed (well–it wasn’t his b/c it was shared) but b/c the boys’ bedroom was so small, he used it as a desk to do homework on, a chair or sofa, a place to eat and to entertain. It was an all purpose piece of furniture in Gary, and also in the hotel rooms he spent so much time in when on tour. So of course he would do the same, follow the same habits, in Neverland with his close friends.

  5. yours4ever says:

    I agree, Monica, very welcome news – and about time! I only wish I lived near Duke so that I could attend the class! Kudos to Dr. Neal. I wish more universities would offer such a class.
    Great birthday present for you, Michael. Surrounded by love today at Forest Lawn, plus appropriate academic recognition. L.O.V.E.

  6. Paula says:

    yes, this is exciting and extremely good news…..I hope we get to find out if this was actually a successful class that many people attended…..Happy Birthday, MJ. You have been in my thoughts all day….

  7. Monica says:

    The news of this positive recognition is so welcome, especially on this day. I think he knew a day would come when he would be examined academically, philosophically, etc. Although some days it may have seemed far off.
    Celebrating your essence Michael.