Michael Jackson's legend to visit the ivory tower – in Chicago
May 17, 2010|By Howard Reich
The currents of black musical culture course through the song and dance of Michael Jackson.
Which is why the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) – based at Columbia College Chicago – will present a major conference on his art, in various downtown Chicago locations, Sept. 23-25.
"Genius Without Borders: Michael Jackson" will present scholars, critics and Jackson associates discussing the art, life and times of the King of Pop. All events will be open to the public and most of them will be free. To date, cultural critic Greg Tate, black studies professor Mark Anthony Neale and scholar Daphne Brooks – among others – have been enlisted as guest speakers.
Why organize the event now, so soon after Jackson's death last June, at age 50?
"I noticed immediately after his death last summer that there was a lot of uncritical celebration, which I think was great," says Monica Hairston, executive director of the CBMR.
"But I think that now, several months later, we're really ready to look at the legacy in a critical way and understand the artistic processes and the genius that was involved in creating this icon.
"We felt it was a good time to open up the opportunity for some serious scholarship to be started."
The event will build on the CBMR's much-discussed conference of last year, "Genius Without Borders: A Symposium in Honor of the Genius of Ray Charles." But the Jackson soiree will differ from the Charles event in at least one significant way – musicians will not be playing Jackson's songs (at the Charles symposium, vocalists and instrumentalists performed Brother Ray classics with the CBMR's New Black Music Repertory Ensemble).
"We realized that even though we had a really successful performance of Ray Charles' music … so many artists had kind of yoked onto his compositions, and (audiences) had an ear to hear them as standards," says Hairston.
"Whereas people want to hear the Michael Jackson songs as they are.
"They are unique, aural, studio-created works of art. And without those specific studio sounds, I don't think audiences want to hear them.
"I think that will change over time, but it's all still so new."
Scheduling for "Genius Without Borders: Michael Jackson" has yet to be finalized, but Hairston says that in addition to the already announced guests, individuals who worked with Jackson and knew him personally will also be on hand.
Wow, I wish I could attend something like this.....