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Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson

Music and the American Civil Rights Movement

This year we've been celebrating many of the milestones of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. When thinking about these incredible people and events, it's almost impossible not to hear the music of the time. Songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" are inextricably linked to the movement. In many cases, these songs that became anthems for a generation fighting for their rights, had been providing hope and inspiration for their ancestors dating back decades or even centuries.

It has been argued that the Civil Rights Movement was sparked by a concert. Marian Anderson, one of the greatest classical singers of the 20th century, was barred from performing at Washington's Constitution Hall because of her race. The refusal was protested by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the NAACP, the American Federation of Teachers, and others. This led to Anderson's landmark concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939.

Early jazz musicians used their popularity to bring the ideas of racial equality and social justice to a broader audience. Billie Holiday's haunting redition of "Strange Fruit," a song inspired by the lynching of two black men in 1930, became an early anthem of civil rights. In 1935 the wildly popular Benny Goodman was the first white bandleader to hire black musicians as members of his band. Louis Armstrong, arguably the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century, was criticised early in his career for playing into the "Uncle Tom" stereotype. However, when the civil rights movement began to heat up the in 1950s, he became an outspoken critic of the government and their treatment of African Americans.

During the 1960s, popular musicians played an integral part in the Civil Rights Movement. Singer Harry Belafonte joined the movement in the 1950s, and became a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. He also provided financial support for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council. Gospel pioneer Mahalia Jackson became the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, singing in Selma, at the March on Washington, and at Martin Luther King Jr's funeral.

As we reflect on the events of 50 years ago, let's make sure to remember the music of the movement and the musicians who took a stand for civil rights.


Amazon Says: Let Freedom Sing powerfully retells one of the greatest stories in American history, the Civil Rights Movement, in a compelling new way... through the singers and songwriters more...
Amazon Says: Let Freedom Sing powerfully retells one of the greatest stories in American history, the Civil Rights Movement, in a compelling new way... through the singers and songwriters who fought for change through their music. This amazing DVD chronicles the power of lyrics and songs that helped move a generation during turbulent times, bringing change to our country. This is the story that made President Obama's success possible, told for the first time through the music that drove it and those who were there. Narrated by Louis Gosset Jr., interviews with Gladys Knight, Isaac Hayes, Chuck D, Andrew Young, Quincy Jones, Pete Seeger and more. Also features 29 performances, 10 top ten classic hits! Includes Respect, Change Is Gonna Come, People Get Ready, Fight the Power and What's Going On. less...
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Amazon Says: Product DescriptionA fresh and exhilarating take on one of the most important social movements in American history, SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION explores the civil rights strug more...
Amazon Says: Product DescriptionA fresh and exhilarating take on one of the most important social movements in American history, SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION explores the civil rights struggle through the powerful and stirring songs that inspired a generation. In this deeply moving documentary, legends of the fight for equal rights such as Congressman John Lewis, Julian Bond, Ambassador Andrew Young and Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, testify to the indispensable role that songs of rebellion and hope played in helping activists fight against brutality and injustice.In riveting studio performances, top contemporary artists including John Legend, Wyclef Jean, The Roots and Joss Stone reinvigorate and reinvent timeless songs like We Shall Overcome and Wade in the Water.Through a creative combination of historical footage, deeply personal interviews and heartfelt performances, SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION makes an original, emotionally stirring contribution to the civil rights story. This stunning film is a testament to the vitality of music in the lives and times of those who strive for justice.Special FeaturesFull musical performances from John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Joss Stone, Mary Mary, Blind Boys of Alabama & Anthony Hamilton, Richie Havens, The Roots and Angie StoneTwo bonus musical performances from the Carlton Reese Memorial Unity ChoirDeleted scenes and interviewsBehind-the-scenes photo gallery less...
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Amazon Says: Since their enslavement in West Africa and transport to plantations of the New World, black people have made music that has been deeply entwined with their religious, communit more...
Amazon Says: Since their enslavement in West Africa and transport to plantations of the New World, black people have made music that has been deeply entwined with their religious, community, and individual identities. Music was one of the most important constant elements of African American culture in the centuries-long journey from slavery to freedom. It also continued to play this role in blacks' post-emancipation odyssey from second-class citizenship to full equality. Lift Every Voice traces the roots of black music in Africa and slavery and its evolution in the United States from the end of slavery to the present day. The music's creators, consumers, and distributors are all part of the story. Musical genres such as spirituals, ragtime, the blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock, soul, and hip-hop—as well as black contributions to classical, country, and other American music forms—depict the continuities and innovations that mark both the music and the history of African Americans. A rich selection of documents help to define the place of music within African American communities and the nation as a whole. less...
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Amazon Says: Mahalia Jackson’s rise from a young choir soloist in New Orleans to America’s most famous gospel singer is a stirring story of social and musical history. Born poo more...
Amazon Says: Mahalia Jackson’s rise from a young choir soloist in New Orleans to America’s most famous gospel singer is a stirring story of social and musical history. Born poor in New Orleans in 1911, young Mahalia Jackson was told to "let it out" when she sang the gospel at church each Sunday. Swaying and clapping her hands, she astonished everyone who heard her powerful voice. As her fame grew, her soulful voice helped introduce gospel music to the world and brought hope to thousands of civil rights workers who marched for equality in the 1960s. Through it all, Mahalia’s faith in God never wavered and her talent remained a shining light. Roxane Orgill’s compelling narrative, accompanied by more than fifty photographs, brings drama, depth, and immediacy to the life of the world’s most famous gospel singer. less...
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