Great Artists in American Roots Music 2

Course Number


Study Group Leaders (SGL)

Taylor Ackley. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Brandeis and at University of Massachusetts, Boston are collaborating on this course.


In person on the former campus of Mt. Ida College in Newton, 100 Carlson Ave, Newton, Massachusetts, 02459. Ample, convenient parking will be provided. Once enrolled in this course, you will receive detailed directions.

8-week Course

March 1 - May 3. No class March 29 or April 26.

Please note this class will run for 8 weeks from 10 a.m.-noon and will take place at the former campus of Mt. Ida College in Newton. Though this class meets for eight weeks, it will count as a 10-week course in the lottery.


This class  is a sequel to the class offered in the Fall of 2023 and is appropriate for both new and repeat students. From its birth amid the rapid changes in American culture in the first years of the 20th century, country music has continually appealed to people from various backgrounds who feel left behind by a rapidly changing world. Country music, a key genre in American roots music, not only expresses the hardships of modern life, but also purposefully evokes an emotional response. Whether you are stuck in a troubled relationship, unemployed, homeless, spiritually bereft, or just lonesome, there’s a country song for you. Each session of “Great Artists in American Roots Music” will involve a dynamic mix of lecture, performance and discussion. We will move beyond a historical survey of American roots music to focus on the individual stories and artistic developments of particular roots artists including Merle Haggard,Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash. By examining their musical output in the context of these long, celebrated careers, new perspectives on famous works like “Mama Tried,” “The Pill” and “The Man in Black” emerge. These stories will also help us to understand the roles race, class and gender have played in the history and reception of country music.

Group Leadership Style

More lecture than facilitated discussion.

Course Materials

Readings will be drawn from scholarly literature, popular press and artist biographies and will be provided in PDF format or as links to digital content. Listening will be provided in the form of a YouTube Playlist.   

Preparation Time

Approximately 20 pages of reading per week with about half an hour of assigned listening.


Taylor Ackley is first and foremost a folk musician. Born into a working-class family with a remarkable musical heritage, his work was influenced by generations of pickers, singers, songwriters and fiddlers across his family. He holds a master’s degree and PhD in Composition and a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology from Stony Brook University, exploring American folk and popular music through analysis, composition, historical research, performance and ethnography. Taylor is a professor at Brandeis University, writing a book titled Hearing Class.