The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Contributed by Joe Knap, Bay High School, Bay Village, OH


Samuel Langhorne Clemens carefully cultivated the Mark Twain image as he wrote such books as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Fyodor Dostoevky struggled between literary necessities and his own personal religious beliefs as illustrated in the epilogue of Crime and Punishment. In “college-bound” literature courses, the issue of the author’s persona gains prominence in the discussion of such books.

This topic may become more accessible for students with the judicious selection of contemporary musicians who have taken on obvious and sometimes changing personae in their careers. Be it the stance of a rap artist, the artistic phases of David Bowie, or the commercially inspired image make-overs by countless musicians, students will find examples from a field in which they have an interest. The study of such examples will encourage students to gain a deeper appreciation for the complex relationship between the individual and the public image and the resulting impact on the works of the artist.


The students will:

  1. Understand that artists create public images of themselves;
  2. Recognize the need to reflect on the purpose and effect of the public image as it relates to the work of the artist;
  3. Gain an interest in becoming knowledgeable about a writer’s life while recognizing the benefits and limitations such knowledge has when interpreting the works of that writer.


While the issue of author’s persona as it relates to their works may be a fairly sophisticated topic appropriate to more advanced 11th and 12th grade classes, the issue may arise in simpler form in lower grades. The unit may be adjusted easily to those audiences.

Time Frame

This unit most likely should be integrated with the introduction of an existing literature unit. Depending on the extent that the teacher wants to pursue this topic, the unit may add three to five days to the existing unit.


CDs/tapes and player, lyrics, album or CD covers, images of the artists


Depending upon the make-up, grade-level and interests of the class, select a performer such as David Bowie, Madonna, Bono (of U2) or Chuck D (from Public Enemy) or have members of the class select an artist that would meet the criteria that follows. Have individuals or groups be responsible for researching background and biographical information about the artist, locating pictures, and providing lyrics and a tape or CD of a representative song. Each students or group should present a summary of their research to the class.

Class discussion will follow and should center on:

  1. The biographical information about the artist
  2. The persona or image the performer projects
  3. The stance taken within the music and lyrics
  4. Whether background knowledge enhances appreciation and understanding of the work

The discussions above will be used either as an introduction to or in conjunction with similar study and discussion of a literary figure.


The final evaluation of the unit will evolve from a series of assessments made throughout the unit. Daily evaluations may include observation of student reaction, question and response, and assessment of homework and quizzes. Periodic evaluations may include in-class writing exercises or tests. The individuals or groups responsible for selecting and presenting material will receive credit commensurate with the caliber of their work. All students will be evaluated on the final writing assignment. The final evaluation of this unit should answer two questions:

  1. Does incorporating this unit increase the students’ interest level?
  2. Does the unit enhance the students’ understanding of the current curriculum?

Topics for in-class essays or more extensive papers include:

  1. Identify and analyze the key features that distinguish the persona of the artist/writer from the “private” person.
  2. Select an important aspect of the artist/writer’s persona and discuss how it manifests itself within a specific work.
  3. Write a persuasive essay making a case for or against the theory that the more a reader knows about the artist/writer, the better one will be able to appreciate the work.

Selected Recordings

Students will suggest artists and songs.

Additional Resources

When using the web browser, type in the name of the specific band or performer to reach home pages that often contain lyrics and background information. The following web sites may also be valuable for obtaining information and lyrics: