Units on African-American Culture
Music and the African American
By Corwin Jones
Art DramaExperiencesLiteratureListening
Social StudiesSpeakingScienceTechnologyWriting

Cooperative LearningDiscovery CenterEvaluationsStrategies

Music and Black History Month Unit Plan
to be used with 6th grade

Lesson 1
Language Arts
3 class periods stretched over 3 days

Students will listen to and watch the How the Leopard Got His Spots,
CD-ROM (Microsoft Home, 1995). Students will use what they have
learned about the CD-ROM, How the Leopard Got His Spots, and
information about African culture to present information to the class.

Day 1
How the Leopard Got His Spots, CD-ROM
Compatible computer with CD-ROM drive
Connections to hook television (TV) to computer
Large screen TV (Large enough to be seen by entire class)
Day 2
4 copies of CD-ROM
4 computers with speakers
Day 3
Same as day 1 materials
students' notes
egg cartons and rocks or marbles (for Mancala)
Pre-Lesson (Day 1):
Introduce How the Leopard Got His Spots. It is a tale by Rudyard
Kipling. The tale is a piece of African folklore. The music is done in
traditional African style (performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Ask
students if they know any folk tales. Do not use up too much time with
discussion, the story takes about 45 minutes to run. Play the CD-ROM
(story only). Use the remaining time (if any) to discuss the story.

Lesson (Day 2):
Break students into four groups. Each group will interact with a
different aspect of the CD-ROM (History, the Mancala game, Music
Matching, and the Read-along pages). Inform students that they will be
presenting their knowledge to the class. Students should attempt to
find out all they can about their area in the time allowed.

Post-Lesson (Day 3):
Allow each group of students time (about 10 minutes) to present their
area of the CD-ROM. Allow for question and answer session (questions
from teacher and other students). The Mancala group will teach the
game to the class as the last group and play a few rounds.

Students will be assessed on the quality of their presentations. If
group knows what they are presenting and can prove it through the
answering of questions they receive full credit for their achievement.

Lesson 2
One class period

Students will listen to excerpts from the novel, Slave Dancer.
the novel, Slave Dancer
Blues, Jazz, and Rock: A Study in Styles (Compiled course outline
for Blues, Jazz, and Rock class from South Dakota State University)
Pre-Lesson: Have students individually brainstorm what they know about
slavery. Review some of the student responses. The instructor will
make the connection of slavery to music through the reading excerpts
from the novel, Slave Dancer.

Read excerpts from Slave Dancer. Include in excerpts why music was
used on the slave ship and why the little boy throws away his drum.
Ask class members to discuss the connection of music to slavery based
on what the instructor read. Remind students that music can be
positive as well.

The instructor reads about field hollers from Blues, Jazz, and Rock: A
Study in Styles (BJR) p. 2.

Classroom participation.

Lesson 3
Social Studies
One class period

Students will read about slavery.

Classroom social studies text
The instructor reads the introduction from BJR stating the importance
of the African influence on American music. Review field hollers.

Students will read in classroom social studies text about slavery in a
round-robin style. In class, cover when slavery started, reasons why,
discuss why it was wrong, and why it was abolished.

Call-response was a big part of field hollers. Demonstrate a
call-response to the class. It can be as simple as saying "hello", and
having someone respond.

Instructor observation of student participation.

Lesson 4
Social Studies/Language Arts
One class period

Students will compare/contrast Native American wacipi music with field

some form of audio media containing field hollers and a device to
play it on some form of audio media containing wacipi music and a
device to play it on pencils paper chalk or dry-erase board
dry-erase markers or chalk Pre-Lesson: Discuss music of different
cultures. Play an example of wacipi music and an example of a field

Tell students to get out a sheet of paper. On one side of the paper,
tell them to write what is similar about the two styles of music. On
the other side of the paper, tell the students to write what is
different about the two styles. Replay the examples as needed.

Review student responses to the two examples. The instructor will
write compare on one side of the board and contrast on the other.
Students will share their responses and the teacher will document them
on the board.

Instructor observation of students comparing and contrasting the two
forms of music.

Lesson 5
Two class periods

Students will physically test if technology actually enables us to do
things more efficiently.

BJR pages 1 and 2
lyrics to John Henry
computer with word processing program
electric screw-driver
standard tip manual screw-driver
standard head screws
2 2x4 pieces of wood with pre-drilled screw holes
John Henry

When John Henry was a little baby boy, sitting on the his papa's knee
Well he picked up a hammer and little piece of steel Said Hammer's
gonna be the death of me, lord, lord Hammer's gonna be the death of

The captain said to John Henry
I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
I'm gonna whup that steel on down

John Henry told his captain
Lord a man ain't nothing but a man
But before I'd let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand

John Henry said to his shaker
Shaker why don't you sing
Because I'm swinging thirty pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring

Now the captain said to John Henry
I believe that mountain's caving in
John Henry said right back to the captain
Ain't nothing but my hammer sucking wind

Now the man that invented the steam drill
He thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry drove fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine

John Henry hammered in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, it broke his poor heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died

Now John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Anne
John Henry took sick and had to go to bed
Polly Anne drove steel like a man

John Henry had a little baby
You could hold him in the palm of your hand
And the last words I heard that poor boy say
My daddy was a steel driving man

So every Monday morning
When the blue birds begin to sing
You can hear John Henry a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring

Found at http://www.nsknet.or.jp/~motoya/J/John_Henry.html

Day 1
Introduce work songs (p.1 BJR). Introduce spirituals (p.2 BJR). Read
the lyrics to John Henry. Use the lyrics as poetry. Ask students if
this song would be considered a spiritual or a work song. Discuss
reasons students chose the way they chose. Explain the lyrics. Ask
students what John Henry was trying to prove.

Hold person vs. machine contests. Students act-out John Henry-like competitions. Have students choose a champion for
each contest. Tell students to come up with a hypothesis for each
contest and then document what happened after each contest. Students
should tell if the outcome went with their individual hypothesis and
tell why or why not. 1. Word processor vs. hand-written words. Have
one student type the first verse to John Henry and have another
student write it by hand. Watch to see who finishes first. 2. Electric
screw-driver vs. manual screw-driver. Give a 2x4 and a screw to each
of the chosen students. Give one student an electric screw-driver and
give the other a manual standard tip screw-driver. Watch to see who
finishes first. 3. Calculator vs. written math problems. Give one
student a calculator and one a pencil and paper. Give each student the
same math problem to complete. Watch to see who finishes first. Assign
homework to students. Tell them to think of more human vs. machine
ideas and bring the materials to class tomorrow to hold more contests.

Day 2
Use student made contests if materials are available and can be done
without injury. Discuss ideas of other students. Use the same format
as the day before to complete the lesson.

Review the outcome of each contest. Discuss inventions and efficiency.
Have the students come up with categories for each of the machines
used in the contests. Have the students graph each student hypothesis
(would human or machine win?).

Instructor observation of student documentation and/or participation.

Lesson 6
Language Arts
Eight class periods spread out over 8 days

Students will summarize Yolanda's Genius.

Yolanda's Genius
BJR pages 3-6
notebook to be used as a journal
Day 1
Introduce Blues to class (read from BJR pages 3-6). The instructor
will begin to read from Yolanda's Genius. The instructor will read
until there is about five minutes of class left.

Tell students to get out their journals and a pencil and summarize in
writing what was read for that day.

Days 2-7
The instructor will ask for a volunteer to summarize the previous
reading(s) of Yolanda's Genius. The instructor will then read from
Yolanda's Genius until there is about five minutes of class left.

Students will continue to write a daily synopsis of Yolanda's Genius
in their journals.

Day 8
The instructor will ask for a volunteer to summarize the previous
reading(s) of Yolanda's Genius. The instructor will then read from
Yolanda's Genius until there is about five minutes of class left.

Students will continue to write a daily synopsis of Yolanda's Genius
in their journals.

Students will discuss the story and tell what they learned about the
blues. Students will hand in journals to instructor.

Instructor will read student journals. Students work will be judged on
accurate summaries of the readings.

Lesson 7
Language Arts
One class period

Students will be able to learn what is unique about themselves and
other students through sharing autobiographical poems.

BJR pages 6-10
10 step autobiographical poem form
blank sheets of paper
Line 1: Write your first name.

Line 2: Write 2 words that describe you.

Line 3: Son of ... or
Daughter of ... or
Brother of ... or
Sister of ...

Line 4: Who feels ...
(two things)

Line 5: Who finds happiness in ...
(two things)

Line 6: Who fears ...
(two things)

Line 7: Who would like to see ...
(two things)

Line 8: Who enjoys ...
(three things)

Line 9: Resident of ...

Line 10: Write your last name.

Introduce jazz to the students by reading from BJR pages 6-10. Ask
students to describe what they know about other students in the room.
Then ask a student to answer something specific about another student
that may not be common knowledge (i.e., What is So&so's favorite
movie?). Don't get too personal. Try to stump the students. Explain
that there is something about each of us that is unique and makes us

Give each student a small, blank sheet of paper and a pencil (if
needed). Each student will write a poem about themselves. Students
will fill out the poem one line at a time as given. The poems will be
read, line by line, aloud by each student.

Questions will be asked to the class about what they learned from the
activity. Use one or more of the following questions: 1. How did it
feel to share information about yourself with someone else? 2. What
new things did you learn about your classmates? 3. What new thoughts
did you have about yourself when you wrote the poem (review specific


Use jazz music to inspire students in an art lesson. Allow students to create what they wish using pencils and paper using the music as a guide.

Students will have achieved the objective if the directions are
followed properly and the students share their information with other
classmates. Students' answers to the questions asked should show that
students understand the importance of the lesson and excepting the
thoughts, feelings, and differences of others as what makes us

Lesson 8
Social Studies
Two class periods

Students will examine musical contributions by Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame inductees.

4 or more Internet-ready computers
Day 1
Introduce rock and roll by reading page 20 from BJR. Access Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame web site http://rockhall.com/induct/index.html ahead
of time on as many computers as are available.

Break the students up into groups (as close to equal groups at each
computer as possible). Have each student choose a different hall of
fame inductee (must be okayed by instructor). Students will then go
through the write-ups of the inductee he or she has chosen. Each
student will write down the information on his or her inductee to
present to the class. Play the audio that goes along with the write-up
if time allows.

Day 2
Students will present the information on their inductees individually
and orally to the rest of the class.

Discuss the given influences of each inductee. Stress how the
influences of the past allow us to move forward. Ask why this may be.
Review unit.

Web Sites Related to Unit

Story of Ronnie White

Sites spotlighting the African American and music






Other African American Music Resources

There are many sources concerned with the development of African
American music in this country. These include:

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Low, A. Augustus. Encyclopedia of Black America. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1981. Reference Center E185.E55 Contains lengthy articles
on individuals, as well as subjects such as music.

Ploski, Harry, and James Williams. The Negro Almanac; A Reference Work
on the African American. Detroit: Gale, 1989. Doheny Stacks E185.P55
Excellent historical and biographical articles; well illustrated.

---. Reference Library of Black America. 5 vols. New York:
Afro-American Press, 1990. Reference Center E185.R44 1990 Basically a
reprinting of The Negro Almanac in enlarged format.

Wesley, Charles. International Library of Afro-American Life. 10 vols.
Corwell Heights: Publishers Agency, 1976. Reference Center E185.I58
1976 Each volume is concerned with a major topic and has its own

Williams, Michael. The African American Encyclopedia. 6 vols. New
York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993. Reference Center E185.A253 1993
Excellent historical and biographical articles, with many photographs.

Biographical Sources

Biography Index on Disc (CD-ROM)
Leavey Library

Chilton, John. Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street. New
York: De Capo, 1985. Music Library; Reference Center ML106.U3.C5 1985
Over 1000 short biographical sketches.

Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler. Encyclopedia of Jazz in the
Seventies. New York: Horizon, 1976. Reference Center ML105.F36 Short
biographical sketches of active musicians.

Southern, Eileen. Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African
Musicians. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1982. Reference Center ML105.S67 1982
Fairly lengthy sketches of over 1500 musicians, living and dead.

Other Resources

Books on African American Music
Music Index on CD-ROM (Music Library)
Journal, newspaper, and magazine articles.


Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins.
Cinema-TV CINVID 564

Marian Anderson
Leavey LVYVID 1

We Shall Overcome.
Leavey COLVID 103

Audio Tapes and Recordings

Afro-American Music and Its Roots.
Music Library r780.1 A258si

Brighten the Corner Where You Are; Black and White Urban Hymnody.
Music Library r780.58 B855

From Jumpstreet: A Story of Black Music.
Leavey 2339

Marian Anderson Spirituals.
Music Library r780.51 M333m

Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs,
1960-1966. Leavey 1540

Great Web Sites for Music

Hell Hound on My Trail: Robert Johnson


Books Documenting the History of
African American Music

The following are some of the many books in the University Libraries
at USC on African American music. Use the subject headings at the
bottom of this page to locate additional titles.

Floyd, Samuel. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance; A Collection of
Essays. New York: Greenwood, 1990. Music Library ML3556.8.N5B6

Jazz: A Multimedia History (CD-ROM)
Music Library

Jones, Gayl. Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American
Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991. Doheny Stacks; Leavey

Peretti, Burton. The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in
Urban America. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992. Leavey; Music Library

Reed, Tom. The Black Music History of Los Angeles, Its Roots. Los
Angeles: Black Accent on L.A. Press, 1992. Music Library ML3479.R44

Riis, Thomas. Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theatre in New York,
1890-1915. Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1989. Leavey; Music Library

Southern, Eileen. African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale,
and & Dance, 1600s-1920. New York: Greenwood, 1990. Doheny Stacks

Woll, Allen. Black Musical Theatre: From Coontown to Dreamgirls. Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989. Leavey; Music Library ML1711.W64

Many other books on music in the African American community can be
found by using Homer, the online catalog, and the card catalog (for
older books). Use subject headings such as:

Afro-Americans - Music
Afro-American Musicians

Remember: Don't use punctuation in entering the subject heading in
Homer. Other subject headings can be identified by using the Library
of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) found in every campus library.

Strategies that can be used with unit.
- K-W-L
- Visualization
- Story Drama
- Brainstorming
- Summarization
- Graphic Organizers
- Journals