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Revolutionary Music - Music and Social Change

The Music of Civil Rights, from Strange Fruit to The Roots

In partnership with:
With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Doors open 15 minutes in advance of the program. Registrations are at or over room capacity, registrants who arrive more than 10 minutes after the start of the program will have their reservation given to other patrons.
Starts at 6pm.

Music has always been central to the African American quest for freedom. The Civil Rights struggle and its music provided some of America’s most powerful calls of hope, moral clarity, and equity.

During the 19th century, spirituals such as Steal Away carried coded protest. In the 20th century, protest became explicit. In the 1930s Ethel Waters sang an anti-lynching song that shocked Broadway and Billie Holiday bravely recorded the stinging song Strange Fruit. Duke Ellington’s long career spoke for racial respect and civil rights in such pieces as Black Beauty and [Martin Luther] King Fit the Battle of Alabam’.

As political action picked up and in the 1950s and 1960s, We Shall Overcome became the clarion anthem of the Civil Rights movement and central to America’s moral quest for “a more perfect Union.” Old songs like This Little Light of Mine took on new meaning and fresh songs appeared such as If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus. Black and white activists alike sang Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. And great artists—such as Sam Cooke (A Change is Gonna Come), The Impressions (People Get Ready), James Brown (Say It Loud), Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, on up to The Roots—all sang to advance respect and equality.

Dr. John Edward Hasse, long-time music curator at the Smithsonian and Duke Ellington’s biographer, plays stirring video clips of these songs that inspired, motivated, and advocated for what Martin Luther King called for in his “I have a dream” speech: that we all be judged not by the color of our skin, “but by the content of our character.” He will also play works by W.C. Handy and Duke Ellington that helped lay the musical foundation for the Civil Rights movement.

Bookselling information
For in-person attendees, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, one of our community bookstore partners, will provide copies of Hesse's book Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington for purchase and facilitate an author signing from 7 - 7:30 PM following the the audience Q&A. Zoom webinar attendees and any patrons wishing to order copies online may do so from Bookshop dot org by visiting this link.

One of America’s foremost music historian-educators, Dr. John Edward Hasse helps audiences understand the power of music to move and inspire us to greater heights.

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