Faculty Spotlight: Charles Mancuso
When he first stepped onto the Buffalo State College campus as a freshman 50 years ago, nobody would have guessed that Charles Mancuso, ’66, ’69, would someday become a professor in its Music Department.
“I was planning to go to Gannon University,” said Mancuso, “but at the last minute, I was recruited to come here and play basketball.” With most of the academic programs closed, Mancuso was placed in the industrial arts program. “I didn’t even know how to use a hammer,” he said. He shone on the basketball court, and his other grades were good, but he was on academic probation because he couldn’t run a lathe to save his life.
After a brief absence, Mancuso returned as a history major. But it wasn’t until the Record’s sports editor suggested that he write a music column for the student newspaper that Mancuso found a way to express his earliest passion, music.
“When I was in third grade,” said Mancuso, “I’d spend my Saturday mornings listening to boogie-woogie piano players on my father’s 78s [records].” It wasn’t long before he had a record collection of his own. Instead of a diary, he kept a top 10 list of his favorite new songs every week. “The Four Aces, the Four Lads—I loved that stuff,” he said. Although he played “a little” piano, Mancuso’s real fascination focused on the music, its performers, and the layers of story behind popular music. He calls his courses “history with a beat.”
He started his teaching career at Buffalo State in 1970, and joined the Music Department as a full-time faculty member in 1976, when William H. Tallmadge, music professor and Mancuso’s mentor, retired. At that time, Mancuso taught in Bulger Communication Center. “The classrooms had three screens,” he said, “and I decided to make use of all of them.”
The multimedia course he developed was decades ahead of its time, and it established his reputation as an innovative teacher as well as a passionate scholar of popular music. He featured slides and music; today his courses also incorporate video and sound clips via computer. He still uses three screens in his customized classroom in Rockwell Hall, and he shares iconic and rare photos and posters that illustrate the connections between the music, its makers, literature, films, and politics. “The three screens complement each other,” he said.
In 1996, his many years of writing about music culminated in the publication of Popular Music and the Underground: Foundations of Jazz, Blues, Country & Rock 1900–1950. Critic Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News reviewed the encyclopedic book and wrote, “Chuck Mancuso has seen American non-classical music of the 20th century whole—not just jazz and blues and popular music, but country music and cabaret and urban folk music, too.”
Today, his lectures include references to Lady Gaga and Ani DiFranco. And he’s at work on another book that will detail his own encounters with the musical greats who traveled through Buffalo when jazz clubs flourished and “Chaz” was reviewing concerts and records for the student newspaper on campus.
“Buffalo State made it all possible for me,” Mancuso said. “When I started, there was no word for what I was doing—and I was able to do it here.”
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