The Multi-Talented Mr. Erskine: Shaping Mass Culture through by Katherine Chaddock

By Katherine Chaddock

This primary biography of John Erskine perspectives him within the better contexts of the mass tradition and accelerated commercialism that helped propel his status. It additionally relates a existence narrative that demonstrates perils of educational megastar alongside a conceptual course from public highbrow to pop icon.

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Instead, he became a sought-after teacher whose students were among the best because his limited patience and blunt candor allowed him to quickly weed out those with no real musical promise. 9 Finally, Walter announced: “You have learned everything I can teach you. ”10 He was convinced that after piano study abroad, Erskine could have a stellar concert career. However, the youngster was both thrilled and dubious. His adored mother was unenthusiastic. The final decision was to stay home and continue to mix music with academic interests.

E r s k i n e Erskine was thrilled in his sophomore year when several of his verses appeared in Morningside and caught the attention of Professor Thomas R. Price, a nationally prominent scholar of literature and languages. A committed Southerner by virtue of birth and upbringing in a wealthy Virginia family, the courtly professor had interrupted his university studies in Germany and France at the outbreak of the Civil War to serve the Confederacy as an aide to his cousin J. E. B. Stuart. He had then determined to help the defeated South through education, first by opening a college preparatory school in Richmond, Virginia, and then through faculty appointments at Randolph-Macon College and the University of Virginia.

Student groups presented plays and musical shows regularly. More than a dozen fraternities were immediately active at the Morningside campus; Erskine eventually joined Delta Upsilon. One sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, opened a chapter for women students whose “coordinate” attendance at Barnard College allowed them many of the curricular and extracurricular advantages of the Columbia men while preserving the clubby tradition of an all-male campus. ”7 Promoted primarily by literature professor George Edward Woodberry and his students, the somewhat shifting group met twice a month—once with a structured program, usually in the form of an address by one of Woodberry’s scholarly friends followed by beer and pretzels at College Tavern, and alternately with informal talk around a keg of beer on the second floor of College Tavern.

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