History of Motown class offers rich insight on modern pop music

by Scarlet Keolanui, Contributor

Motown music began as the Motown record label in the 1960s and evolved into its own  sound, a style of soul music with pop influences that’s still prevalent today. For example, many credit the rise of hip-hop, which got its start in the 1970s, to the emergence of the Motown record label a decade prior.

These are some of the many insights in music history that students can learn from San Diego State musicology lecturer Maya Ginsberg’s courses, History of Motown and History of Hip-Hop.

Ginsberg, who designed her general education music classes herself, describes them as a jump-off point where students can learn about the social and cultural contexts behind the music they are learning about.

She said students in these classes get to learn about how the civil rights movement affected the Motown era during the ’60s. They will also see how both hip-hop and Motown styles share commonalities, even though they are spaced out chronologically and sound different.

Ginsberg’s classes for music majors delve deeper into music history and their cultural contexts. For her, all of her classes are fun to teach although they are all very different from each other.

Her History of Motown class teaches students about the genre.

“(Motown) has been around for almost 60 years,” she said. “Current students’ parents or grandparents listened to (Motown), but (it) has made its way into popular music and students can recognize (it) in current appearances, perhaps as a sample on a hip-hop song or recognize it as a past appearance. Many of these acts are still touring or are part of history, but the music has never gone away.”

This semester marks Ginsberg’s fourth semester teaching a history of hip-hop course. While the class is about the genre’s history, it also covers artists such as Kanye West and Beyonce in the context of historical issues and how they connect to current events.

“We are so bombarded with music that we tend to not separate it and see how music affects culture,” she said.

Ginsberg said she hopes her courses help her students gain more appreciation for music.

“I would definitely take one of these classes,” communication junior Rachel Casamassa said. “I love SDSU because of its diversity, and these classes being offered on campus is clearly proof of that.”