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OSU president Michael Drake speaks to audience members at the ‘Reaching for the Top: Music of the Civil Rights Era’ event on Feb. 17 at Ross Heart Hospital. Credit: Sarah Mikati / Lantern reporter

Ohio State President Michael Drake did the twist and sang at Ross Heart Hospital as part of a discussion about music during the Civil Rights era.

“I think all of us are moved by music, and we get to hear people communicate things (through music) that are meaningful to us in ways that resonate for years to come,” Drake said in an interview with The Lantern at the event.

Drake gave his keynote speech at the hospital’s annual Black History Month event on Tuesday, which this year was called “Reaching for the Top: Music of the Civil Rights Era.”

With an interactive presentation drawn from a former class he taught at University of California-Irvine, Drake took the audience through decades of black music culture, from slave songs of the 1800s, to love songs of the 1950s and resistance songs of the 1960s.

However, black music and white music were sometimes exactly the same, Drake said. In the 1950s, identical songs with slight rhythmic differences would be classified as rock ’n’ roll when sung by white people, but as “race music,” or R&B, when sung by black people.

Drake said the 1960s began changing pop music culture, from singing about teenage love experiences to expressing distaste about race issues in the U.S.

Drake highlighted Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Freedom Singers as some of the key musicians that sang against oppression. Some of the songs were sung during marches and protests of the Civil Rights Movement.

“The arts came from the philosophical, political and social circumstances of the artist,” Drake said. “It allows us to connect with how people were feeling and behaving.”

Motown was one of the first genres to form a bridge between whites and blacks, with music that was appropriate and applicable to both races, Drake said.

He analyzed various aspects of the music he presented to the audience, from the tone artists used to the instruments they played.

In fact, one of the event coordinators said the idea to focus on music at the event was Drake’s.

“Music is a passion of (Drake’s),” said Diane Gordon, administrative director of operations at University Hospital East and one of the coordinators of the event.

Quinn Capers, associate dean in medicine administration at the Wexner Medical Center, said music is a wonderful way to reflect upon society.

“(Drake) did a masterful job of taking us through a couple of decades,” Capers said. “The more we learn about each other, the more we respect each other, the more powerful we will all be as a country and in medicine. I’m empowered to save lives when I know more about different cultures and different religions and different ethnicities.”