August 1, 2017

Professor Kelly Jakes takes rhetoric to another note

Kelly Jakes combines her love of popular song with her scholarly research to prove that music provides a way to develop and maintain cultural and political diversity.

This interdisciplinary insight has found a natural home in Detroit and in Wayne State’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts’ Department of Communication, where Jakes teaches public address, explores social movements and conducts archival research on the uses of popular music during World War II.

Sporting a passion for vocal music and performing, Jakes charted an early path to become an opera singer. While taking a college course on the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, she decided to abandon that goal to transition to academia.

Jakes realized she could combine her love for music with the study of rhetoric in order to uncover how marginalized or repressed people use pop culture to resist oppression. During her research in the rhetoric of music, she discovered that individuals without a voice often turn to music to communicate.

Jakes has always enjoyed singing. Her mother told stories of how, as a baby, she loved music and would often make melodic sounds and noises. This passion fueled her desire to become a current member of the Rackham Choir, Detroit’s oldest community choir.

Last December, Jakes took to the stage at the Detroit Opera House alongside the nearly 80-person choir for the 15th anniversary of the group’s rendition of Too Hot To Handel, conducted by Suzanne Acton. This annual concert is a Motor City staple, infusing Detroit-inspired styles of jazz and gospel while showcasing added touches of blues, swing, classical and scat.

“It’s just a lot of fun! It feels like a rock concert sometimes,” explained Jakes. “Rearranging Handel is a fun way to feature a more diverse sound and really break through the classical barrier.” Jakes says the performance showcases a celebration of American diversity and spirit. The show is enjoyed by many for its audience participation including dancing and clapping.

Aside from her love of music, Jakes feels it is important to continue singing because it helps her to stay connected to the subjects that she writes about. “If I write about music and I’m not performing, I feel like I’m a fraud. It is important to me to have some type of interaction with the subject that I am studying,” she said. “It keeps me grounded.”

Interested in hearing Jakes’ melodic gift or attending one of Rackham’s performances? Visit or check it out on social media @RackhamChoir.

Over the coming months, look for videos, stories and events featuring some of the many Wayne State initiatives and passionate individuals committed to the arts and culture. This content is part of WSU's Warriors in Action campaign highlighting how Wayne State makes a difference in Detroit and beyond.