Trivia time. Artistically speaking, what's the difference between, say, William Blake and Smokey Robinson?
The answer is there is no difference. That was a trick question.
After all, they're both poets. (In fact, Bob Dylan once called Mr. Robinson—known for his endless number of Motown hits—as "America's greatest living poet.") Yet many universities include Blake in the canon while Mssr. Robinson is nowhere to be found.
That's a shame, but fortunately, the times they are a' changing (sorry, we couldn't resist).
Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University recently received a $1 million gift for the Center for Popular Music Studies courtesy of James "Great Neck" Richman, Elissa Richman, and the Richman Family Foundation of the Jewish Communal Fund.
The gift will support research, teaching, and learning initiatives for faculty and students, as well as support musical performance, public programming, and partnerships with other Cleveland cultural institutions, youth programs, and area schools. In addition, plans call for fellowships for visiting scholars at the university and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives.
Here's Richman, a Case Western Reserve alumnus, who has served as a trustee for five years at the rock hall, commenting on the gift: "Elissa and I are honored to support the Center for Popular Music Studies and its unique partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We hope that our gift will help break down barriers between popular culture and academic study and encourage lively debate in the field of popular music." (Emphasis added.)
Now, we're well aware that many universities have courses in popular music. We also know writing an entire book on a single popular song has become its own cottage industry. But if we're to read a bit further into Richman's quote, we can reasonably conclude that certain parts of academia don't consider popular music, much less rock n' roll—much less torch songs!—to be on par with the great works of art.
And that's perfectly fine. We won't argue that Chuck Berry is equivalent to James Joyce. But then again, that's not the point, is it? Or maybe it is. Time will tell.
All we know is that for arts philanthropists like Richman who have a pulse on the intersection of popular music and academia, there is still much work to be done in this space.
And what about Richman himself? Well, he's president and CEO of Richloom Fabrics Group, a textile converter, designer and distributor of home furnishing fabrics in New York City, with subsidiaries in Shanghai, China and Gurgaon, India. The Richmans and the Richman Family Foundation have previously endowed a scholarship to support students in Case Western's college of arts and sciences. The Richmans also have supported Case Western Reserve's Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple–Tifereth Israel.
One last point. Our inclusion of Smokey Robinson in the opening paragraph was intentional. Robinson was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree from Case Western Reserve University during the Rock Hall's 20th Annual Music Masters tribute concert back in 2015.
We second that emotion! (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)