“We The People” Protest Songs 1776-Present By Marion T. Sanders, Jnr. Glenn Hills Middle School
In harmony with the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, music has long been an expression of freedom, peace and justice. Throughout American history, songs have cried out against inequality, poverty, and in support of workers civil and human rights.
Escape At Sunset Slavery After the founding of the United States in 1776, some of the new nation’s first protest songs were by and about slaves. Steal away Steal away to Jesus Steal away Steal away home Ain’t got long to stay here
Hutchinson Family The Hutchinson Family Singers, was one of the best known musical groups during the mid 1800’s.The subject of their protest songs ranged from temperance to women’s rights to abolitionism.
Hutchinson Family cont’d Politicians gazed, astounded when, at first our bell resounded: Freight trains are coming, tell these foxes with our votes and ballot boxes Roll it along!Roll it along!Roll it along! Thro’ the nation Freedom’s car, Emancipation
Because of Julia Ward Howe, John Brown may not have become fused with American myth. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the tune of “John Brown’s Body, retaining its “Glory, glory hallelujah”and changing “ His soul goes marching on” to “His truth is marching on.”
Commercial Break In the 1880’s there were 1,118,000 children under sixteen at work in the United States. With everyone working long hours families often became strangers to one another. A pants presser,Morris Rosenfeld wrote a poem, “My Boy”. The poem is on the next page. For many families today this poem is a reality. How would the poem sound immersed in the rhythms of today.
“My Boy” by Morris Rosenfeld I have a little boy at home, A pretty little son; I think sometimes the world is mine In him, my only one… ‘Ere dawn my labor drives me forth; Tis night when I am free; A stranger am I to my child; And stranger my child to me;
The Workers In the 1890’s, workers began distributing strike songbooks in American cites. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWWW), also known as the Wobblies, most completely combined songs and action in their movement for union building and workers’ rights in the early 1900’s. Songs were a central part of the organization’s strategy of recruitment, solidarity and strikes. One of the best-known songs if this period was “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim and Caroline Lolsaat, which was taken up by protest movements throughout the 20 th century.
“Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim & Caroline Kolsaat “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim & Caroline Kolsaat As we go marching, marching Un-numbered women dead Go crying through our sins Their ancient call for bread Small art and love and beauty Their drudging spirits knew Yes it is bread we fight for But we fight for roses, too.
War, Labor and Race The Almanac Singers, which included Woody Guthrie, Josh White, a young Pete Seeger and many others, toured America before World War II, singing to support struggling workers everywhere. In the years after the war, Seeger would go on to become one the great champions of folk and protest music.
“Deportee” By Woody Guthrie Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted Our work contract’s out and we have to move on Six hundred miles to that Mexican border, They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves We died in your hills, we died in your deserts We died in your valleys and died on your plains. We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes Both sides of the river, we died just the same
The greatest protest song of all time was born during a strike in Charleston, South Carolina. Taking their text from a 1900 gospel song by Charles Tindley( “I’ll Overcome”), workers of the Negro Food and Tobacco Unions sang,”We Shall Overcome” for the first time in American history. The song would go on to become the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement and beyond.
We Shall Overcome by Charles Tindley We shall overcome We shall overcome some day Chorus: Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
Vietnam Vietnam The protest music of the 60’s and 70’s was a mixed of old and new themes. Those that abandoned old and general themes started creating themes that were all-out cultural assaults on specific events. In response to anti-war protestors at Kent State that were gunned down by the National Guard, Crosby,Stills, Nash, and Young were inspired to write “Ohio”.
“Ohio” By CSNY “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming We’re finally on our own This summer I hear the drumming Four Dead in Ohio” Buffalo Springfield wrote about the same incident: “You step out of line, the man come and take you away.” Vietnam cont’d
Jimi Hendrix Perhaps one of the most compelling live performances by a musician during the Vietnam War was that of Jimi Hendrix and his “Band of Gypsy’s” on New Year’s Day 1970. His twelve minute version of “Machine Gun” captured the whole audience and shook the world. He opened the set like this : “ Happy New Year first of all. I hope we have a million or two million more of them…if we can get over this summer… Right I’d like to dedicate this one to the draggin’scene that’s goin’ on. All the soldiers that are fightin’ in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York…Oh Yeah, and all the soldiers fightin’ in Vietnam. Like to do a thing called machine gun.”
“ Machine Gun” By Jimi Hendrix “Evil man make me kill ya Evil man make you kill me Evil man make me kill you Even though we’re only families apart.”
Anti-Establishment In the 80’s two new forms grabbed the mike of protest. The Punk movement combined anger, alienation and politics in songs. Rap also emerged as a protest genre.
Anti-Establishment cont’d “Stars and Strips of Corruption” By the Dead Kennedys was a Punk protest song about the Gulf War. The stars and stripes of corruption Let’s bring it all down! Tell me who’s the real patriots The Archie Bunker slobs waving flags? Or the people with the guts to work For some real change Rednecks and bombs don’t make us strong We loot the world, yet we can’t even feed ourselves.
Anti-Establishment cont’d Rap emerged as protest genre, beginning with Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”, which offered up a long lament of the harsh realities for poor African Americans I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice Rats in the front room, roaches in the back Junkie’s in the alley with a baseball bat I tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge I’m trying not to loose my head It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder How I keep from going under.
Message Music: Where will the protest song turn next? Musicians in every genre continue to write protest songs. Diverse rockers like Bruce Springsteen, AniDifranco, Steve Earle and System of A Down have contributed to the protest lexicon in the last few years, some tackling speckfic injustices, others taking on the larger implications of America’s tragedy and response since September 11, 2001. “To The Teeth” By AniDiFranco Are we really going to sleep through another, while the rich profit off our blood,yeah it may take some doing, to see this undoing through, but in my humble opinion, here’s what I suggest we do, open fire on Hollywood,open fire on MTV, open fire on NBC and CBS and ABC, open fire on the NRA,and all the lies they told us along the way.
Anti-Establishment cont’d Hip hop and rap artist like and Michael Franti & Spearhead, OutKast and DRS- One tackle social themes. “Bomb da World” By Michael Franti You can chase down all your enemies bring them to their knees You can bomb the world to places but you can’t bomb it into peace
The catalog of protest music is vast. This overview highlights some of the American songs and songwriters whose words songs and music served as catalysts for thought, action and even social change.