When trailblazing ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon (MA 1970) arrived at the University of Minnesota in 1965 for graduate study, he knew he wanted to be a college professor. What research area would be his focus was still a mystery. His advisor at Amherst, early eco-critic Leo Marx, had been one of a core of Minnesota English professors who established a pioneering American Studies program here in the 1940s and '50s; it was on Marx's advice that Titon applied to the U.
Titon, who was honored with the U's Outstanding Achievement Award at an October ceremony at McNamara Center, discovered his future not in a classroom or in a book but in bars and coffeehouses in Dinkytown and the West Bank. A guitarist, he began performing folk and blues music soon after arriving in Minneapolis, an activity he thought of as separate from his academic studies. There was a sound there that he had to follow: and he did, by joining the band of Chicago expatriate blues pianist, Lazy Bill Lucas, interviewing Lucas and his musician friends about their lives and music for British magazines, and recording Lucas (in a School of Music practice room!) for two albums released in Europe.
When in 1966 Titon took his first class with the U's first ethnomusicologist Alan Kagan, then a new faculty arrival in Music, he discovered that what he had been doing with his interviews was fieldwork: but a new sort, "not as an investigative reporter or scientist the way we were being asked to be in those days," he recalls. "That might well be the place where I first came to think about doing field research as talking and being with people as friends." Eventually the practice became his signature method, and a field-changing one.