Study of literature and rhetoric leads professor on long and winding road to the Beatles
Growing up, Dr. Katie Kapurch was surrounded by the Beatles. Recently promoted to associate professor in English at Texas State University, Kapurch listened to the music of the Fab Four with her father, especially in the car. She fell for the Beatles, appreciating their music, as well as their sense of humor in their feature films, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”
Kapurch didn’t know then that her study of literature and rhetoric would bring her back to the band that meant so much to her in her youth.
In the College of Liberal Arts, Kapurch teaches courses on popular youth culture, mythology and fairy tales, British Literature, and the Beatles. Kapurch, who was born more than a decade after the four British bandmates played their last gig on a London rooftop, is a scholar of the Beatles. “I love the Beatles, but you don’t have to love them to study them.”
The music of the Beatles gives us insight into generations, race, gender, and more, Kapurch says. “They cross disciplinary boundaries, speaking to the historical evolution of youth culture and pop culture politics, the relationship between literature and music, the rhetoric of style and fashion, and music in the global marketplace.”
Recently, Kapurch received an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to write a book, Blackbird Singing: Black America Remixes the Beatles, which is contracted with Penn State University Press’ American Music History series. “There's been research done about how the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and other British Invasion bands of the 1960s are indebted to African American music. But there hasn't been a study that unites black artists from different decades, looking at all of the different ways that African American musicians have covered, been influenced by, and otherwise responded to the Beatles from the 1960s to today. I even consider black artists who reject or satirize the Beatles.”
Kapurch received her master’s degree from Texas State and her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. Her scholarly publications include a book on melodrama in girl culture and a co-edited collection on the Beatles. She has also written articles for websites such as CultureSonar and PopMatters; they are linked on her blog, https://katiekapurch.com/.
“I think readers [of Blackbird Singing] who are interested in the Beatles will have a new appreciation of the Beatles and the influence of their work. But it's also as much or more about appreciating black artists. African American musicians continue a cultural conversation that the Beatles themselves helped continue, but didn’t start because the Beatles, of course, didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll. The book will also show how the Beatles don't belong to one demographic. They don't belong to one generation. Their influence is much more far reaching.”
This fall, Kapurch is an invited speaker at “Come Together: Fifty Years of Abbey Road,” a symposium sponsored by the Institute for Popular Music and the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. “My areas within Beatles studies include gender and sexuality. I recently interviewed Pattie Boyd who was George Harrison's first wife and then she married Eric Clapton. Boyd is the inspiration for Harrison’s “Something”[on Abbey Road], as well as Clapton’s “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight.” She wrote a great memoir and I've taught sections of it. There are of course lots of writings about the Beatles, but [Boyd’s memoir] humanizes the Beatles and shows their story from a woman's perspective.” Kapurch’s talk at the symposium will be on Boyd, her reflections as a young woman and her role as a so-called muse.
Kapurch is also co-authoring a book, currently titled Sex and Gender in Rock and Pop from the Beatles to Beyoncé (Bloomsbury Press), with Dr. Walter Everett, professor of music theory at the University of Michigan. Everett previously wrote The Beatles as Musicians, a two-volume landmark study of the band. “I am thrilled to be working with Walter, who invited me to collaborate with him. His expertise in the music of the Beatles is unrivaled, and his scholarship has been groundbreaking in pop music studies. To our book, I bring a literary, cultural studies point of view to the music theory and musicological analysis that he does. We're writing this book together about the ways that sexual expression works, focusing on sexual dynamics in songs that need close reading techniques, theories of sex and gender, and music theory to explain what's going on.”
In the fall, Kapurch will teach two English classes in the College of Liberal Arts, Mythology (ENG3329) and Adolescent Literature (ENG3386). The spring semester will find her working on Blackbird Singing, thanks to the NEH award.