Dr. Shannon Kelley received her PhD at Duke University and specializes in 16th and 17th century Renaissance and Early Modern English Poetry and Drama. She is known as one of the experts on Shakespeare at Fairfield, and her Shakespeare students rave about her classes where, during certain exercises, they are asked to perform scenes and select entrance songs for varying characters.
In her interview, Kelley shared why her interest in music is so important to her career expressing that, in her eyes, “song lyrics are poetry. Whenever I’m trying to get my students to read poetry, I always try to bring it back to song lyrics because they are the same thing. The Shakespeares of our generation are writing songs. They use alliteration. They use rhyme. They use word play, and they tell important stories.” Yet, other than this courses’ exercise, and despite her strong feelings on how poetry and music correlate, Kelley chooses not to play a lot of music for her students, instead giving them the reins and having them suggest their own songs and make their own connections.
Dr. Kelley grew up in Kentucky where she attended a public high school with a big music program. At this point in her life, Kelley went through what she describes as an “angry phase” and she listened to music that reflected that. She loved punk rock and grunge — especially Nirvana — and attended numerous concerts for various punk musicians until she was in her twenties.
As she grew older, Dr. Kelley discovered hip hop, which called to her in a way that no other music had before. “Hip hop tells the story of hardships. It grew out of African American communities, created by artists trying to fight their way out of poverty, and I can really identify with that. My dad didn’t go to college,” she said. “He worked in a factory, so I strongly identify with the working class, and he cut out on the family. I was raised by a single mom in Kentucky, and while we weren’t that bad off, it was definitely hard.”
The music world continued to call Kelley away from punk when she married a man from Puerto Rico who shared her love for hip hop, but also introduced her to music created by people from his own culture. She developed a passion for Puerto Rican music and together, they raise their young sons in a musical environment containing music from Puerto Rico as well as their beloved hip hop. “Hip hop is what I play when I want to feel happy, want to feel good.” Kelley continued, “Me, my family, my husband — this is what we listen to and this is the music my kids like and will continue to grow up with.”
Wyclef Jean, “Gone Till November”
“This was my anthem when Eli, my 6-year-old son, was born. In the song, Wyclef can’t work a 9-5. He’s a working class hero nonetheless.”
Eminem, “8 Mile Road”
“My interest in hip hop really started with Eminem around when this song came out in the early 2000s. Something about it really appealed to it and it started my interest — to this day, I still listen to it. It’s a really great song.”
Luis Fonsi, “Despacito”
“My husband is Puerto Rican, so we all, but especially my kids, really like to listen to Puerto Rican music — especially when we practice basketball. This past summer, Despacito was a really big hit, and we played it quite a lot when we were practicing!”
Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Aloe Blacc, “I Wrote My Way Out” (Hamilton Mixtape)
“This is my current book project theme. Nas and the Hamilton created by Lin-Manuel (and known to the world from the musical and Mixtape album) write their way out of the past. I strongly identify with that. Writing makes and breaks them.”
Janet Jackson, “All For You”
“When my now spouse and I started our relationship, we gave each other mixtapes — playlists on CDs and we realized we had a lot of similar musical interests. From there, we found out we had similar backgrounds and realized we were really going to click. This was one of the songs from those playlists we exchanged and now my husband continues to bring new music, not just to me, but to our entire family, but this was the original.”
Big Pun, “It’s So Hard”
“I like ‘It’s So Hard’ for the street credibility. It’s about Big Pun’s escape to a new class where he feels alien. [Big Pun] is unwilling to go back to poverty but utterly alien in the middle/upper class.
Jay-Z, “Empire State of Mind”
“Jay-Z and Beyonce are my favorite artists. Buy Jay-Z… This is another song about an escape to a new class.”