Professor Steven Rings Selected as Public Scholar Recipient by the National Endowment for the Humanities

Steven Rings headshot

The Department of Music is proud to announce that Professor Steven Rings was one of three UChicago professors recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH selected Rings and Professor Allyson Nadia Field as the first Public Scholar recipients at UChicago's Division of the Humanities to each receive $60,000 grants, and Professor Judith Zeitlin received a Scholarly Editions and Translations award. 

Rings received the award for his unique scholarship on Bob Dylan. While Bob Dylan's lyrics have been written about extensively, Rings noticed that Dylan's music has been relatively neglected by scholars. Rings wanted to explore Dylan as a musician and the idiosyncratic sounds he makes and analyze the changes to his music throughout his long, storied career. 

“Bob Dylan’s musical imperfections intrigue me,” said Rings, associate professor in the Department of Music at UChicago. “It’s easy to tally his sins against ‘good musicianship.’ His voice is famously polarizing. His guitar, piano, and harmonica playing are unkempt. Yet he is one of the most recorded musicians in history, and millions of fans hang on every flubbed note and dropped beat. What gives these wayward sounds such efficacy?”

Traditionally, authors have focused on Dylan’s lyrics and his literary storytelling. The musician’s highest accolades such as the Nobel Prize for Literature have touted his profound knowledge and use of literature and literary sources. Rings disputes this primary focus on lyrics, contending that his music is meant to be heard and not analyzed apart from how it sounds. After all his research, he believes Dylan is more of a music fanatic than a literary one.

Rings wants his forthcoming book "Sounding Bob Dylan: Music in the Imperfect Tense" and its accompanying website, with recordings of Dylan's music, to provide a more complete portrait of the artist. 

“In prose that mixes shimmering clarity and profound depth, Steve Rings’s book on Bob Dylan promises to change fundamental aspects of the way America's iconic bard is assessed,” said Larry Zbikowski, the Addie Clark Professor and Chair in the Department of Music at UChicago.


From Sara Patterson's story in the UChicago News