Record Producer Teaches a Course on Music's Impact on Segregation

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When James Brown died two years ago on Christmas Day, the Nashville record producer Steve Buckingham dove into his collection of videos of the artist to console a distraught friend.

The footage shocked Mr. Buckingham's friend, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter who counted the Godfather of Soul as one of her biggest influences.

"She had no idea," says Mr. Buckingham, that Brown was also an important political figure who played in Boston the night after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a concert that some say helped prevent race riots in the city.

Such was the inspiration for a class that Mr. Buckingham is teaching this spring at his alma mater, the University of Richmond, titled "Music and Society: Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and Soul Music — Their Impact on Segregation." Mr. Buckingham, a four-time Grammy Award winner who has produced 27 No. 1 singles, hopes to show his students the role that figures like Elvis Presley and Ray Charles played in the civil-rights movement by drawing white and black Americans together and commenting on the times through their music.

In his 40 years in the music business, Mr. Buckingham has produced such artists as Tammy Wynette, the Chieftains, Dionne Warwick, and Ricky Scaggs. He did not give up that career to teach the seminar, which is so popular that administrators had to raise the enrollment cap three times. Instead he flies to Richmond on Sundays, sleeps at a hotel downtown after teaching the evening class, and flies back to Nashville on Monday mornings....

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