Paul Wertico
Paul Wertico, Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Music
"This kind of music and its historical backgrounds are important to know about, not only because of Roosevelt University’s historic mission of social justice and activism, but also because of the uncertain times that we are living in today." Paul Wertico Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Music

A new course that examines the best of American protest music will inspire a new generation of students to revive civil rights and anti-war songs on March 27 and April 3 at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Taught by seven-time Grammy Award-winning drummer and Roosevelt jazz and contemporary music professor Paul Wertico, the course called Social Justice Through Sound covers music on injustices done to Native Americans, immigrants, African Americans, women, and others throughout American history.

The filled-to-capacity class of 40 undergraduates – marking 50 years since the historic tumult and unrest of 1968 – is learning about music as a tool for social justice causes and change, as well as influential artists such as Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Staple Singers, and even the Beatles.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the curiosity of my students, some who have been learning for the first time about the true impact of the music of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War Movements,” said Wertico, who grew up in Chicagoland during the Sixties and early Seventies when protest music abounded.

“This kind of music and its historical backgrounds are important to know about, not only because of Roosevelt University’s historic mission of social justice and activism, but also because of the uncertain times that we are living in today,” said Wertico, formerly the drummer for 18 years with the Grammy Award-winning Pat Metheny Group, and who also played drums and percussion on David Bowie’s hit song “This Is Not America” from the movie The Falcon and the Snowman.

During the course, students have read Chicago Tribune Rock Critic Greg Kot’s book I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway and Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution: Music and Social Change in America by Dick Weissman.

Along the way, they have also heard anecdotal stories from Wertico, who grew up as a youngster in Chicago’s troubled and racially segregated Marquette Park neighborhood, and as a budding musician, wore long hair that at the time was considered to be a sign of rebellion that needed to be quelled.

“This course has been about opening eyes to history and the artists and songs that have been important in helping us gain the freedoms we have today.  I believe students need to know about this kind of music history as they try to navigate a world in which many of our freedoms are now in jeopardy,” Wertico said.

On Tuesday, March 27 at 5:30 p.m. in Roosevelt’s second-floor Congress Lounge, 430 S. Michigan Ave., Wertico will present a forum entitled Music of the Civil Rights Movement, joined by five CCPA Music Theatre students from his class who will perform songs, including Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” and the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.”

A second forum on Tuesday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. in Congress Lounge, Rock Music, The Vietnam War and the Influence of Music on Social Movements in the 1960s and Beyond, will feature the same five CCPA students performing renditions of songs, including Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from the musical Hair, and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

Co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Library, both events are free and open to the public.  For more information or to learn more about the course, contact pwertico@roosevelt.edu

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