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University of Missouri

Panoramic Sound

Stephanie Shonekan, from Nigeria, teaches a country and soul course.

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Photo by Nicholas Benner.

When Stephanie Shonekan, ethnomusicologist and assistant professor in the School of Music, lists her musical influences, the performers are eclectic: Sly and the Family Stone, Kenny Rogers, George Clinton, Dolly Parton. Then again, she was raised in Nigeria and Trinidad amid West Indian, West African, Lutheran and Baptist missionary cultures before moving to Indiana, Chicago and now Columbia. She knows diversity.

Shonekan’s Introduction to Soul and Country course for non-music majors teaches students to “think critically about the world using music as a springboard.

“Because of who I am, I want [students] to think about their own world and the rest of the world,” Shonekan says. “I am an immigrant to both musical cultures, so I bring a certain objectivity to bear in my teaching.”

During the semester, the class reads the biographies of Johnny Cash and James Brown, listens to their music and studies the album covers. At first, the divergences seem prominent. Eventually, the parallels emerge.

“Biography is a great way of understanding history,” Shonekan says. “Cash’s tragedies, pains and struggles, working in the South, with Elvis, dealings with people of color — all of that is in his biography.”

Despite a class of 240, Shonekan says she gets to know her students well. She even discovered that one of her students — country musician Josh Cherry of Reeds Spring, Mo. — performs locally.

“He’s always playing on campus, and he’ll be returning to my soul and country class this spring to perform and do a Q-and-A,” Shonekan says. “He also introduced me to the bluegrass band The Cleverlys. They are fantastic.”