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The Road Toward Becoming Legendary

March 1, 2016

written by Ross Cleveland

It is that time of year! Student Activities is now fully into a season of planning for Coffeehouse. This week, we are hosting tryouts to determine which acts will be awarded a spot into Coffeehouse on April 9th. As many of you already know, the theme for Coffeehouse will be “The Legends”, encompassing many legendary singers, songwriters, and bands throughout history. From Aretha Franklin, to Michael Jackson, to The Beatles (just to name a few), each of these legends left a lasting an impact as one of the greatest musical artists of our time. However, not all legends had an easy path. Some of the most famous artists faced heavy criticism along the way, challenging them to work harder to achieve their goals and earn respect.

One such artist is Elvis Presley. When his career began in the mid-1950’s, many journalists and even parents were outraged by the concerts that Elvis orchestrated. One journalist even stated at the start of Elvis’s career,* “Elvis can’t sing, can’t play the guitar, and can’t dance”. Parents were especially concerned for their kids to see Elvis live, whether on TV or in concert, because his dancing and other movements were so provocative at the time. Even though he stirred up a great deal of controversy throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Elvis persevered on his road toward stardom that popularized rock ‘n’ roll music in America, and impacted other genres including country and gospel.

The Beatles, one of the truly great bands in rock history, faced critique early on in their careers. However, 50 years ago, many people questioned, criticized, and even mocked them for their musical skill set. For example, The New York Times said, “The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts. The Los Angeles Times had similar beliefs: “With their bizarre shrubbery, The Beatles are obviously a press agent’s dream combo. Not even their mothers would claim that they can sing well. Despite such harsh criticism, The Beatles continued on, and their arrival in the US redefined the meaning of the term “teen heartthrob” and forever changed the way people experienced music.

Another legendary artist who overcame many critical challenges is Bob Dylan. When accepting his 2015 MusiCare award, he stated, “I’m glad for my songs to be honored with such high esteem. But you know, they didn’t get here by themselves. It’s been a long road and it’s taken a lot of doing." Individuals from day one of Bob Dylan’s career questioned his abilities. Some said, “He can’t sing. He croaks. Sounds like a frog” to even saying he can’t carry a tune and talks his way through a song. Comments like these only furthered Dylan’s passion and desire to create music that audiences have enjoyed for years. With a deep respect for musical tradition, Bob Dylan left an impact on the culture around him, and is one of the iconic figures in American music.

Coffeehouse: The Legends gives an opportunity for students to pay homage and respect to some of the greatest artists of all time. But just like these legends experienced, public performance comes with adversity, part of which is hearing the voices of critics. Looking back on past Coffeehouse acts, all of those performances displayed a level of talent and greatness that I know I cannot replicate. Yet, some performances during Coffeehouse are criticized for the performers’ talent or abilities. But as previously mentioned, even legendary artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles were criticized for the same things. As students prepare for tryouts this week, let us not forget the level of respect each group deserves. Whether or not a group is awarded a spot in Coffeehouse, we hope everyone will display a level of appreciation to the groups who take the step to even tryout in the first place. For those that do move onto the big stage and perform under the lights, just try to remember that you are performing for the audience, not the critics.