Was Beethoven Black?

A Twitter meme reveals more about race and music than the composer’s origins. Social media trend is a new twist on a century-old question

Was Beethoven Black?The year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, and in mid-June this year, he started trending on Twitter. Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that Beethoven was popping up on social media platforms, but what was unusual and certainly unforeseen: the claim that “Beethoven was Black.” Where did this idea come from?…

Exposing the roots of racism through song

As an artist and an academic, Arsh Khaira explores the power of music to overcome divisions

Exposing the roots of racism through songMusic has a major role to play in the fight against systemic racism, according to newly minted music PhD Arsh Khaira. The Edmonton-based musician and University of Alberta instructor, who graduated on June 12, wrote his thesis on how the trauma of ethnic conflict is passed down through generations. He focused specifically on the ways…

Celebrating the human spirit can change the world

The Specials helped calm racial tensions and drew broad attention to the unjust imprisonment of Nelson Mandela

Celebrating the human spirit can change the worldIt has long been debated whether you can change the world with a song. If it’s not possible, one band came incredibly close. The Specials (or The Special AKA) rose to prominence in England in the late 1970s and achieved international fame in the early 1980s.  Their sound fused the music of Jamaican immigrants with…

Calling Elvis: When the King came home from the army

Calling Elvis: When the King came home from the armyElvis Presley was no more immune to the draft than other young American men of his era. Having reached eligible age, he was medically examined, declared physically fit and duly called up. Apart from his training period, his entire two-year army stint was spent in what was then West Germany. And the lead up to…

Talking to my elders about coping with anxiety

When crisis strikes, I instinctively wonder if there are any parallels and guidance I can take from my elders’ lives

Talking to my elders about coping with anxietyThere’s no shortage of anxiety right now. The reasons are ample: little children are aware of the climate change crisis; adolescents are boldly marching with Greta Thunberg to draw attention to the need to decarbonize our world; for months, financial analysts have been speculating on when the great stock market boom would end; the job…

Keith Richards was wrong – the message does matter

There are many great teachers who instruct us on how to achieve true happiness and success. You're just not likely to find them in popular culture

Keith Richards was wrong – the message does matterI often reflect on where my beliefs come from. I can see they’ve changed significantly over time. As I’ve altered who I listen to, my thoughts and beliefs have changed, and I’ve changed for the better. In my teen years I was strongly influenced by popular culture. I loved the Who, the Rolling Stones, the…

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgia

Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas is recognized as the best-selling single record ever

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgiaIt’s surely a personal quirk, but I must confess that the relatively modern Christmas songs, like All I Want for Christmas Is You and Fairytale of New York leave me cold. Yes, I know they’re critically acclaimed and immensely popular, not to mention enormous money-spinners. However, they don’t tickle my fancy at all. Perhaps it’s a…

The first rock ’n’ roll Christmas

That a guy nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis had tackled sacred songs was offensive and sacrilegious to many. But it was perfect marketing

The first rock ’n’ roll ChristmasTeenagers in the 1950s couldn’t escape the music of their parents. Despite radio’s new-fangled Top 40 and the attendant infiltration of rock ’n’ roll, the sounds of the past were all around. This was particularly the case for Christmas songs. But things began to change in late October 1957, thanks to Elvis Presley announcing the…

With war on the doorstep, The Singing Cowboy came calling

His tour of the U.K. and Ireland just before the Second World War was a huge success. But prudence meant his entourage came home early to avoid any danger

With war on the doorstep, The Singing Cowboy came callingThe summer of 1939 was nerve-wracking for Europe. As July slid into August, it became increasingly clear that – barring a miracle – war was on its way. And there were no miracles to be had. There was, however, a distraction that delighted tens of thousands. Gene Autry, The Singing Cowboy, came calling across the…

Alabama museum pays tribute to the father of the blues

Visit the Alabama birthplace of W.C. Handy

Alabama museum pays tribute to the father of the bluesIt may be in St. Louis, Memphis and New York that W.C. Handy popularized the blues. But it’s in Florence, Alabama, that his musical journey began. Dubbed “The Father of the Blues,” Handy was born in 1873 in this city whose population is closing in on 40,000. The family’s two-room cabin, built of white poplar…

If we’re laughing together, perhaps we can bridge the gap

I have to do all I can for peace and truth, even posting my Middle-Aged Middle Eastern Guy rap on YouTube

If we’re laughing together, perhaps we can bridge the gapSometimes you need to risk appearing foolish to speak a very deep truth. As a person of Middle Eastern ethnicity, I’ve long felt a tie to all peoples of that area of the world. As I watch the news, I see a horrible conflict between the Christians, Muslims and Jews of this region. Perhaps it’s…

We have an obligation to use our gifts for good

We’re all born with a unique and inherent capacity to do good. The trick is to put it to use

We have an obligation to use our gifts for goodAs we go through life, we’re given many pieces of advice. Those that are most truthful tend to survive the test of time, and the best advice brings enduring happiness and a sense of peace. At an orientation social before I began my first assignment as a young teacher, I sang a song for an…

The day the music died?

Buddy Holly died 60 years ago, but his music has not faded away – even if the nature of rock tours has changed dramatically

The day the music died?To quote Don McLean’s song American Pie, Feb. 3 marks the 60th anniversary of the day the music died. The reference, of course, is to the 1959 plane crash that killed rock ’n’ roller Buddy Holly, two other performers and the pilot of the four-seater plane in which they were travelling. I remember the event…

Music can touch our hearts and give us hope

Playing in harmony is perhaps the most perfect example of human co-operation

Music can touch our hearts and give us hopeLebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran said, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife.” If any group has experienced strife over the last several hundred years, it’s the people of Africa. First they had a significant portion of their population dragged into slavery. Then they had their…

Baby, it’s too cold outside to simply ban Christmas songs you don’t like

Social and cultural change is most effective when it employs persuasion as opposed to heavy-handed tools such as censorship

Baby, it’s too cold outside to simply ban Christmas songs you don’t likeThe removal from air play of the newly controversial 1940s hit Baby, It’s Cold Outside represents a noteworthy shift in the way media companies defend artistic freedom in the eight years since the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing was banned in Canada. The Dire Straits tune, a monster 1985 hit, was forbidden from broadcast…