By Mirabella Miller ’24
From Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters to Chicanx punk rockers, Los Angeles has a rich and varied rock and roll history rivalling that of any other major city. However, Los Angeles remains underrated in this respect, as other aspects of its identity continue to dominate the cultural imagination. When conceptualizing his Core III course, Representing LA: Rock-and-Roll Realities, Bessie and Cecil Frankel Chair in Music and Professor of Music Hao Huang wanted to correct this misperception by giving voice to the city’s overlooked musical history.
“We live in LA County, and I think it’s important to understand the histories of the place you live,” he says. “LA is an entirely underrated cultural city; most people think it’s Hollywood and Beverly Hills with a splash of Orange County. I wanted to counter some of the stereotypes about LA.”
In pursuit of this goal, Huang’s class collectively curated an exhibition on Los Angeles music history, Listening to LA: Rock ‘N’ Roll Realities, which opened at the Clark Humanities Museum on October 5. Through the curation of merchandise, records, and other artifacts, Huang’s class highlighted the ways in which young people in LA used and continue to use music to support both themselves and each other as artists, creating countercultural subcommunities with unique voices and values. The opening reception featured a student band as well as presentations about the exhibition.
“I grew up in a household that was constantly playing music and was encouraged to experiment with instruments and vocals as much as I desired,” says Zoe Stephens ’26, who served as one of the exhibition’s student treasurers. “As a SoCal native from just two hours north of Los Angeles, I wanted to know more about the history of the city. I am a fan of rock and roll, but I now have a new and deep appreciation for the genre.”
Curating an entire exhibition in just over a month required hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, and curiosity. The class divided and conquered, breaking into groups to research different subgenres of music while working closely with both Huang and Associate Professor of French Studies Julin Everett, the director of the Clark Humanities Museum.
For Huang’s students, the opportunity to research an area of personal interest created a deep appreciation for the subject material. “My group focused on contemporary LA women rockers, so we had the opportunity to research and display work from artists we listen to every day,” says Sara Cawley ’26. “I had absolutely no prior knowledge of LA rock and roll, but as someone who went to school in the LA area, I’m excited that I’ve learned so much.”
The opportunity to conduct sustained, independent research is an integral part of Core III, the final installment of Scripps’ Core Curriculum in Interdisciplinary Humanities. Core III classes empower students to pursue individualized scholarship and present their research as a project, which can take many forms, including fieldwork, performances, and exhibitions such as Listening to LA: Rock ‘N’ Roll Realities.
Students found that the chance to share the fruits of their scholarly work with the community in such an interactive way was highly rewarding.
“It’s been really fun and a super creative process. Professor Huang gave us a lot of freedom throughout the curation, so we had a lot of responsibility, but we also got very close as a group and were able to problem solve well,” says Cawley. “Seeing the exhibition put together makes me feel so proud of our class.”