MX Sydney

By Cathy Morris

Lady Gaga was a university dropout and many of the biggest names in music history came from poor backgrounds with little in the way of education.

But now a new course at the University of Sydney is bringing rock and roll to the ivory tower. 

And some of music’s big influencers, including co-founder of MTV Les Garland, Rolling Stone magazine editor Rod Yates and The Jezabels frontwoman Hayley Mary have been recruited as guest lecturers to give students a firsthand insight into the industry.

Lecturer Dr Rebecca Sheehan, who initially dropped out of university to work in the music industry in both Australia and the US, before returning to study a PhD in American history, came up with the new course. Titled Sex, Race and Rock in the USA, it looks at the music industry from World War II until today.

Sheehan said she was particularly interested in the relationship between rock music and gender, sexuality and race.

She said music provided an opportunity for people with limited options, especially in the early days of rock and roll. 

And many used their experiences as inspiration — for example, Chuck Berry sang about a country boy who couldn’t read and write still succeeding in Johnny B Goode.

"For black men who don’t have many options in the ’50s for them to become wealthy and successful through music is incredible," Sheehan said.

Sheehan said stories behind the music and the culture at the time were worth studying, including Little Richard’s hit Good Golly Miss Molly.

Miss Molly was actually slang for a male prostitute, she said.

The new course is being offered at the University of Sydney during second semester.