Blog / Sampling Motown


By Wendy

A class at the Nasher Museum Tuesday night had Duke students bouncing in their seats.

They could not help themselves, especially during such classic tracks as “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, “Superfreak” by Rick James and “I Want You Back” with a 10-year-old Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. The music was part of “Sampling Motown: Soundtracks to the Civil Rights Era,” a special public session of the “Sampling Soul” course co-taught by Grammy Award-winning DJ 9th Wonder and African and African American Studies professor Mark Anthony Neal.

The guest lecturer was Harry Weinger of Universal Music, who has overseen the catalogues of Motown and James Brown.

“Motown is the most recognized music brand in the world,” Weinger told the audience.

He remembers listening to Marvin Gaye in the back seat of his father’s car, craning his neck toward the speakers in the back, he said. “All these records have a timeless feel to them.”

As Weinger spoke, 9th Wonder cued up music samples to play. Students watched 9th Wonder find songs in his iTunes library through the Scratch LIVE program projected on a large screen that showed the names of the song and artist, length of the song and a visual representation of the song’s sound waves jumping in a green band across the screen.

The purpose of the class was to discuss sampling in music, learn about different careers in the music business and hear stories from the careers of all three speakers. Weinger told an anecdote about placing “the needle on the record” and Neal stopped him briefly, telling the audience, “I know that’s a strange phenomenon for some of you.”

Neal chose to hold the session at the Nasher Museum, he said, because of a connection between the class and an upcoming exhibition, “The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl,” opening Sept. 2. Neal contributed an essay to the catalogue that will accompany “The Record,” and 9th Wonder curated a crate of record albums that visitors will have the chance to peruse outside the exhibition.

The class was co-sponsored by Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies.

This was originally posted on Duke Today.

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