From Washington, DC to Seattle, Washington, the streets are filled with thousands of protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all victims of police brutality.
Music has long fueled movements for social justice. In 1936, Lead Belly denounced racial segregation.
Civil rights activists vowed they weren’t going to let nobody turn them around.
In 1964, Sam Cooke said “a change is gonna come.”
James Brown implored everybody to get involved.
In 1975, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes told us to wake up; no more sleeping in bed.
In the wake of the lynching of George Floyd, “the world has changed so very much from what it used to be.” Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist has nearly 850,000 likes.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Black Music Month, the brainchild of music mogul and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Gamble and broadcast executive Ed Wright. Radio personality Dyana Williams, the “Mother of Black Music Month,” breaks down the origin of the celebration.
2019 also marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in British North America. Music helped the ancestors survive the dehumanization and barbarity of slavery. This mandolin was crafted by a slave circa 1800s. It is on display at the National Constitution Center.
The ancestors used music to express their grief and sorrow. In 25 Black Gospel Songs that Have their Roots in Slavery, BlackExcellence.com wrote:
This traditional Negro spiritual dates back to the slavery era. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child expresses despair and pain. Furthermore, it conveys the lack of hope of a child who’s been torn from the parents. The word sometimes is repeated several times, which can be interpreted as a measure of hope, as it suggests that occasionally this child doesn’t feel motherless. This child can represent a slave who, in the trafficking process, has been separated from something dear to his or her heart (such as a spouse, home country, parents, children, siblings, and so on) and is yearning for it.
Music was a form of resistance. Again, from BlackExcellence.com:
Wade in the Water is a Negro spiritual song that teaches slaves to hide and make it through by getting into the water. It’s a perfect map song example with lyrics that offer precious coded directions.