With a Little Help From My (Mostly White) Friends: Searching for Invisible Members of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Objectives/Purposes: The cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of the most popular and highly acclaimed works of music related art in recent history. It is comprised of a collage of 57 photographs and 9 waxworks that represent people that had some kind of major influence on the Beatles. George Harrison described the choice of images when he stated “we were trying to say we like these people, they are part of our life” (quoted in Martin & Pearson, 1994, p. 117). Harrison was the only member of the Beatles to choose people of color by selecting eight Indian gurus for the album cover. Boxing champion Sonny Liston was the choice of visual artist, Peter Blake, (Spitz, 2005, p.667). Blake later stated that he wished he would have included "more musicians in the picture especially Chuck Berry" (quoted in Martin &Pearson, 1994, p.117).

Indeed, among numerous images of famous artists, actors and authors, musicians in general and black players in particular are conspicuous by their absence. Yet the Beatles owe a great deal to the “invisible” African-American "members" that influenced their band, which should have been represented in some way in the album cover collage. In spite of the fact that the record itself represents the zeitgeist of the late 1960’s worldwide youth movement during the “summer of love”, white supremacy and misogyny were still the order of the day. This presentation provides pedagogical opportunities for discussing racial invisibility and erasure as aspects of critical media literacy. The presenter will examine the reading and misreading of the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover collage as socio-cultural and political text, and demonstrate how critical consciousness contributes to student’s and teacher’s personal agency.

Perspectives/Theoretical Frameworks: This presentation is framed on Freire’s critical consciousness (1974/2007), Ralph Ellison’s (1952) literary trope of invisibility and Share, Jolls and Thoman’s (2005) praxis of critical media literacy.

Methods and Data Sources: Combining the theories mentioned above with personal narrative, I analyze and reflect on an artifact of popular culture that expresses the dominance of “whiteness as the ‘norm’” and the implications for critical pedagogy in the present moment.

Scholarly Significance of the Study or Work: Critical consciousness that makes the “familiar strange and the strange familiar” is essential to transformative praxis. Through this self-reflective/reflexive critical analysis of an extremely popular cultural artifact, the presenter will demonstrate the use of Freire’s notion of conscientização in analyzing a particular historical moment for the prevalence of racial invisibility and erasure.


American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA)


Chicago, IL