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Music Library: Digital Exhibits

Intro

Just Give Me My Equality:
A Look at Protest Music Throughout History

 

For as long as music has been around people have used it to express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.  Music allows us to express ourselves in a way that speaking or writing cannot. It serves to connect people and bring them together through song and harmony—what better way to protest than to use music to join others to a common cause. Music allows us to express the extreme feelings that lead to protest. From creating rhythmic chants to singing melodic songs, music enables humans to address issues that words alone cannot. There are many ways music can play a role in the world of protest, often on all sides of an issue. As these protest songs live on long after the movements are over, they remind us of that time, and why they were necessary. Protest songs are a great wealth of knowledge that can inform us about the time in which they were inspired.

Are there any protest songs that have inspired you to take action?  What songs bring you back to the feelings you had when living through tough times? Can you compose some lyrics and/or music for the political and social injustices we are currently facing? We would love to hear them. 

Explore the digital exhibit:

Featured Items                                                    Featured Songs

Reading Lists:                                                     Play Lists: 
Black Protest Music                                            Songs from "Protest Songs in America" by David M. Rosen
American Protest Music                                      Songs from "Story Behind the Protest Song" by Hardeep Phull
Late 20th - 21st Century Protest Music              Jazz Protest Music
World Protest Music
eBooks

Featured Items

Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection

BLM is one of the most active anti-racist movements of our time. Starting with a hashtag, it has developed into a network of organizations, protests, movements, and more. The mistreatment of black people by the police force is being brought to the forefront with protests across our country, and even the world.  People of all races are speaking up for something they strongly believe in and are making their voices heard.   

 

How has music been involved? This book discusses how the BLM movement and music are intrinsically linked.  Modern music such as Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," J. Cole's "Be Free," and The Game's "Don't Shoot," among others have become unofficial anthems for the movement.  The authors of this book focus on individual case studies and how African American music can be utilized in higher education across America.  This book encourages dialog and discusses how academics should reconsider how they include black struggles in their instruction and research.

Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song

1939. 81 years ago.  Billie Holiday, jazz legend, recorded "Strange Fruit," a song, considered by many, to be the first song of significance to the Civil Rights Movement. It remains relevant to today's society. Its mournful and heart wrenching sound and candid lyrics are the first to directly address the lynching of African Americans in the south.  The lyrics of this song were written by the Jewish schoolteacher, communist sympathizer, songwriter, and poet, Abel Meeropol.  This book examines the song, "Strange Fruit," the Civil Rights Movement, and the lives of both Holiday and Meeropol. Listen below. 

Crisis Music: The Cultural Politics of Rock Against Racism

Rock Against Racism (RAR) was a British movement in the 1970s opposing racism and fascism.  It is considered one of the most successful movements in the post war period. Alongside the Anti-Nazi League, RAR organized concerts, carnivals, marches as protest.  This book discusses the movement and why Punk and Reggae music were used, and explores interviews with activists and critics, and the controversial "celebrity politics." 

Story Behind the Protest Song: A Reference Guide to the 50 Songs That Changed the 20th Century

This book encompasses 50 influential protest songs dating from 1911 - 2005.  It begins with a song that developed from a tune for religious people called "We Shall Overcome," and continues into to the labor movement, then to an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and on.  Concluding with System of a Down's 2005 release of "B.Y.O.B." which stands for Bring Your own Bomb, and expresses guitarist's Daron Malakian's disapproval of the government's commercials for military service. This book covers a wide range of protest songs and movements.  

Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution: Music and Social Change in America

Dick Weissman tackles the deep relationship in America between culture, politics, and music.  Covering topics including Native Americans, African Americans, women, and Latinx, he spans all genres from pop and punk to folk and more.  Exploring music of hate, such as neo-Nazi music, as well as the music of immigrants in the early 1900s, this book includes a wide range of protest music and music for change.  

Protest songs in America

This songbook by David M. Rosen is filled with the lyrics of many songs of protest.  "When laws are fram'd, the poor must lie/ Distrest beneath the nobles' eye/ Unpity'd there, to waste their beneath/In fruitless prayers 'till free'd by death" - Anti-Aristocratic protest. Rosen also includes a variety of music about anti-slavery, from spirituals to the songs of white abolitionists. This book holds labor songs, anti-discrimination music, personal freedom songs, and more.  

Which Side Are You On?: 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs

Published in 2019, this book takes a look at our country's history through songs of protest. It includes songs of Gay Pride, Women's Rights, Freedom of Speech, Immigration, Civil Rights, and much more. Sullivan takes the reader through the last century with the music that spoke of the political and social unrest of the time.  This book will encourage the reader to form an educated opinion on all of the above protest movements.   

Protest Music Reading Lists at NIU

 

Strange Fruit

Lyrics by Abel Meeropol
Sung by Billy Holiday

 

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

 

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin' eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin' flesh

 

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

My Country 'Tis of Thee
(Abolitionist version)

A.G. Duncan

My country,' tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside
Thy deeds shall ring!

My native country, thee,
Where all men are born free,
If white’s their skin;
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales;
But hate thy negro sales,
As foulest sin.

Let wailing swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
The black man’s wrong;
Let every tongue awake;
Let bond and free partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our father’s God! to thee,
Author of Liberty,
To thee we sing;
Soon may our land be bright,
With holy freedom’s right,
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King.

It comes, the joyful day,
When tyranny’s proud sway,
Stern as the grave,
Shall to the ground be hurl’d,
And freedom’s flag, unfurl’d,
Shall wave throughout the world,
O’er every slave.

Trump of glad jubilee!
Echo o’er land and sea
Freedom for all.
Let the glad tidings fly,
And every tribe reply,
“Glory to God on high,”
At Slavery’s fall.

Mississippi Goddam
Nina Simone

The name of this tune is Mississippi goddam
And I mean every word of it

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi
goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn't been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying 'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
Washing the windows
'Do it slow'
Picking the cotton

'Do it slow'
You're just plain rotten
'Do it slow'

You're too damn lazy
'Do it slow'

The thinking's crazy
'Do it slow'
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi
goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin'

Picket lines
School boycots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying 'Go slow!'
'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
Desegregation
'Do it slow'
Mass participation
'Do it slow'
Reunification
'Do it slow'
Do things gradually
'Do it slow'
But bring more tragedy
'Do it slow'
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam, that's it

B.Y.O.B.
System of a Down

Why do they always send the poor?

Barbarisms by barbaras
With pointed heels
Victorious victorious kneel
For brand new spankin' deals

Marching forward hypocritic and
Hypnotic computers
You depend on our protection
Yet you feed us lies from the tablecloth

Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine

Kneeling roses disappearing into
Moses' dry mouth
Breaking into Fort Knox stealing
Our intentions

Hangers sitting dripped in oil
Crying freedom
Handed to obsoletion
Still you feed us lies from the tablecloth

Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine

Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine

Blast off!
It's party time!
And we don't live in a fascist nation!
Blast off!
It's party time!
And where the f**k are you?

Where the f**k are you?
Where the f**k are you?

 

Why don't presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?

Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?

Kneeling roses disappearing into
Moses' dry mouth
Breaking into fort knox stealing
Our intentions

Hangers sitting dripped in oil
Crying freedom
Handed to obsoletion,
Still you feed us lies from the tablecloth

Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine

Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sun

Where the f**k are you?
Where the f**k are you?

Why don't presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?

Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?
They always send the poor!
They always send the poor!

You’re One Day Old and No Damn Good

Hush little babe, don't be forlorn
Though you were lynched before you were born
Your skin is black so it's understood
Though you're one day old you're no damn good

No hush my babe, you're right to squawk
Your skin will creep before you can walk
You live just as long as some people think you should
When you're one day old and no damn good

Some day you may be President
You'll have a White house for your residence
So dry your tears, don't you frown
The rope and the whip can't keep you down

This nightmare, babe, can't last the night
We'll end it soon, the black and the white
We'll mark its grave with a cross of wood
Saying, One day old and no damn good

Featured Songs

Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday


 

 

 

 

My Country 'Tis of Thee - A.G. Duncan
(Abolitionist version)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mississippi Goddam - Nina Simone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B.Y.O.B. - System of a Down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You're One Day Old and No Damn Good

 

 

 

Triptych: Prayer -  Protest - Peace  
Max Roach
Abbey Lincoln

Playlists

 Songs from"Protest Songs in America" - By David M. Rosen 

 

 Songs From "Story Behind the Protest Song" by Hardeep Phull 

 

 Jazz Protest Music