A New Vision of Black Freedom: The Manning Marable Memorial Conference | April 26-29, 2012

Conversations with Kevin Fellezs

Event Date: 
Friday, November 16, 2012 - 4:00pm - 6:00pm
758 Schermerhorn Ext.

IRAAS Conversations Lecture Series

Kevin Fellezs, Assistant Professor of Music and African-American Studies
Topic:  "Guitarists Get a Klugh: Earl Klugh, Chet Atkins, and George Benson."

IRAAS Conversations Lecture SeriesKevin Fellezs is an Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University, where he shares a joint appointment in the Institute for Research in African-American Studies. His work is mainly concerned with the relationship between music and identity. His book titled Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion (Duke University Press) is a study of fusion (jazz-rock-funk) music of the 1970s framed by insights drawn from ethnic studies, jazz studies, and popular music studies. Fellezs has also published articles on African American musicians in heavy metal as well as enka (Japanese popular music genre), Asian American jazz musicians, and Hawaiian slack key guitar. He is currently conducting research in a cultural history of smooth jazz.

Fellezs's talk investigates the relationships among the guitarists Earl Klugh, Chet Atkins, and George Benson as part of a long history of black and white musical crossings across the color line that have been obscured by the particular racialization of jazz and country music. Earl Klugh is an anomaly in popular music as a guitarist who has built a career by performing fingerstyle guitar on a nylon string Spanish, or classical, acoustic guitar. Citing Chet Atkins as his primary influence and defining pop music as an inclusive rather than a benighted genre, Klugh insists that he is a pop music instrumentalist and that jazz is a limiting race-coded term. Atkins faced criticism for his part in creating the “cosmopolitan country” music that incorporated elements from jazz that would come to dominate Nashville production in the 1950s through the 1970s. George Benson, who mentored Klugh early in the younger guitarist’s career, cites Hank Garland as a major influence, a guitarist more closely associated with country music than jazz despite recording a number of “Nashville jazz” recordings in the early 1960s. The music the three guitarists produced individually and with one another not only contest the racialization of jazz and country music but reveal the creative interactions across difference between black and white musicians can be commensurable, compatible, and egalitarian.

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