Prof. Sha Na Na

I have to say, Sha Na Na (stupidest band name ever?) is just about the last group whose members I would have expected to go into academia. Also, can I observe that Sha Na Na did not “make doo-wop avant-garde,” they just turned it into an irritating parody and paved the path for Happy Days and assorted other bogus 1950’s nostalgia. Pretty impressive academic careers, though:

[addendum: I am flabbergasted that — see comments below — a member of Sha Na Na actually read this posting and wrote me to explain how the band was named.  I feel like a snarky jerk.  What do I know?]

From the issue dated June 13, 2008

From Rock ‘n’ Roll Stardom to Academe

How do you top the thrill of playing at Woodstock? By going to graduate school, of course.

Just ask the members of Sha Na Na, who were the penultimate act at the legendary 1969 rock festival, in the slot just before Jimi Hendrix. Of Sha Na Na’s 12 original members, eight went on to get advanced degrees. The musicians, who blended doo-wop choruses with blazing dance moves, formed from a Columbia University a cappella group in the late 60s….

“I don’t think I ever went to a rock concert till I was in a rock concert,” says Rob A. Leonard, a founding member and, today, a professor of linguistics at Hofstra University.

Sha Na Na was the brainchild of Rob Leonard’s brother, George, who was working on his Ph.D. George J. Leonard, now a professor of interdisciplinary humanities at San Francisco State University, wanted to revive 50s innocence through doo wop, making it avant-garde. …

“After that, my college experience was completely abnormal,” says Bruce C. Clarke, a professor of literature and science at Texas Tech University.

Members balanced lives as rock stars and students by taking classes that met in the middle of the week and touring on extended weekends. Rob Leonard, who would later do years of research in East Africa, originally took Swahili because it was the only introductory language class that didn’t meet on a Friday. Rich T. Joffe, who got a Ph.D. after leaving the group but is now an antitrust lawyer, remembers reading an introductory economics textbook on an airplane while the rest of his severely hung-over bandmates tried to sleep.

….Mr. Clarke put himself through his first few years of graduate school with money he’d saved from tours. Alan M. Cooper, now provost and a professor of Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wondered if he should go back to the band when he couldn’t find housing at Yale graduate school. ….All agree that Sha Na Na shaped them professionally. Mr. Cooper still relies on his performance instincts when he teaches.
Section: Short Subjects
Volume 54, Issue 40, Page A6

5 thoughts on “Prof. Sha Na Na”

  1. Somebody sent me this since the name was my choice. Stupidest band name ever? It’s the chorus from Get a Job. Richard Goldstein always said I heard it wrong, and it should have been Sha Da Da but I think I got it right. Anyway, it was only supposed to be for a week. Our first agent was about to rename us The Put-Ons! the Kingsmen had done Louie Louie and we couldn’t be the Columbia Kingsmen any more. So I renamed us Sha Na Na Na. Three of them. That’s the lyric. When I told the group they said, “That sucks,” and I said, “I know, but it’s only for a week. I’ll think of something.” Then the announcer at the Bitter End fumbled it, made it Sha Na Na, and it went into the papers like that, and we were stuck. We hit so fast, I was never able to change the damn name.

  2. Whoa! I am blown away that the author of the name has commented on this. OK, now I feel bad for calling the name stupid.

    Thanks for writing!

  3. Well, I wanted to jump on you for calling them least-likely academics, given their well-documented Columbia College roots. But I guess instead I should point out that he actually doesn’t seem to disagree that the name more or less sucks.

  4. Yeah, good point. I guess I didn’t really need to apologize for that.

    It’s an interesting topic — stupid names bands get stuck with. Like…. the Lemonheads?

  5. this whole exchange is pretty amazing; sorry, but I got distracted away from the rotting sticks when I saw this . . .

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