Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The revolutionary power of music

Music is used to evoke feelings and emotions - it can be overwhelming, make you happy, sad, confused, make you feel good, etc. I think that music is sometimes more powerful than language. As Billy Joel once said, "I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music."

I also believe that music can often provide a window into our history. As we're nearing the end of Black History Month, I'd like to take some time to reflect.

From Emmett Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Selma to Montgomery March, a big part of Black History Month is the Civil Rights Movement. A great way to learn, reflect, and get a glimpse of  the challenges endured by black people during the Civil Rights Movement and see how far we have come is to look at the music of that time.

Music was extremely important during slavery (aka the start of Negro Spirituals) and it remained true for the civil rights era. During the Civil Rights Movement, music was used to motivate black people during marches, sit-ins, mass meetings, en-route to jail, on stage. It was used to protest racism, the brutality and lynchings of black people, and it was also used for strength in the face of harassment and brutality.

The five most notable songs of the Civil Rights Movement were:

1. We Shall Overcome
"We shall overcome, I do believe, some day...we'll leave in peace...we shall all be free"

2. Oh Freedom
"Oh freedom...before I'd be a slave...I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free..."

3. A Change Is Gonna Come
"I was born by the river...and I've been running ever's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die...but I know a change gonna come...oh yes it is"

3. Strange Fruit
"...blood on the leaves and blood at the bodies swinging in the southern breeze...the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth...the smell of burning flesh..."

5. We shall Not Be Moved
"I shall not be moved...I'm on my way to glory land and I shall not be moved..."

Discussion questions:
1. Have any songs helped carry you through some tough times?
2. Can you name two songs that talk about social issues now?


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  2. I am particularly intrigued by the role music has played to gently usher in LGBT rights advancements over the past several years. Macklemore's "Same Love" song was particularly of interest to the teenage boys in our family. Through intelligent lyrics and poignant rhythm, the artists creates a safe space for listeners to attach to the singer's dilemma of having a gay uncle and struggling with how to feel (or not to feel) about the judgement he faces.

    Prior to Macklemore, Katy Perry opened pop culture dialogue with, "I Kissed a Girl." Giving voice in pop culture to subjects that have taboo or hush-hush has had an explosive effect on national dialogue. Not in the way that has been damaging. Much like you express in your post, music has given voice to a great societal struggle, and opened the door to dialogue.

    When a song successfully attaches to social issues, it facilitates dialogue. And any time we can facilitate dialogue, we open the door to greater understanding and tolerance. So when there are issues we have difficulty discussing as a society, perhaps what we are learning is this: we can sing about it. And once we sing, we can begin speaking.

    In summary, I believe music can and does play a key role in society's coping with and understanding of delicate issues. - Melynda Thorpe

  3. I like that you represented Black History Month through this assignment. I couldn't imagine what they felt as they heard these songs while going through these times and movements. Even more so, I couldn't imagine how they feel listening to them now as I am sure a million memories come to fruition. When thinking about my life and songs that have helped me through hard times I think most recently of my husbands deployment and the songs I would listen to. I don't have one specific song I listened to, but multiple. Most often it would be our wedding song, or songs that he has sent to me telling me it had made him think of me, and songs that have a memory of us tied to them. One specific song I can remember listening to was Carrie Underwood's "See You Again." This song wasn't tied to a specific memory of ours, rather what the song communicated rhetorically. These lyrics stuck with me throughout many of the hardships throughout the deployment.