Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein. This
week we bring you some of the most important protest songs of the past century.
Music is a way to express thoughts, feelings and ideas. People have written
protest songs to speak about political and social issues. Protest songs have
denounced slavery, war, poverty and inequality. They have supported peace and
The American Sociological Association has made a list of the most important
protest songs in America during the past century. The list of fourteen songs was
published in the journal Contexts. We will tell about eight of those songs.
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s,
African-Americans protested for equal rights. The American Sociological
Association says two songs were probably sung the most during that time. They
are "We Shall Overcome" and "Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round".Both songs
are versions of traditional spiritual songs sung by black people.
The organization also named another song from the civil rights movement on
its list of important protest songs. The song is "Lift Every Voice and Sing".It
was written by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson in the
early 1900. The words of the song came from a poem James Weldon Johnson wrote.
He had been asked to speak at a birthday celebration in his hometown in Florida
for former President Abraham Lincoln. The song later became know as the national
song of praise for African-Americans. Singer Kelli Williams recorded “Lift Every
Voice and Sing".
Music experts say the song "Strange Fruit" is one of the greatest protest
songs ever. It condemns the hanging of African–American men in the American
South. Abel Meeropol wrote a poem about this subject in 1937. He was a school
teacher in New York City. He showed the poem to blues singer Billie Holiday who
turned it into a song.
Florence Reece wrote the song "Which Side Are You On" in the 1930s during the
labor struggles of coal miners in the state of Kentucky. The group Peter, Paul
and Mary sings about the need to organize workers into labor unions.
Bob Dylan has written and sung many protest songs that condemn
war or support civil rights. The American Sociological Association says it was
difficult to choose just one of his famous protest songs. They include "Blowing
in the Wind","Only a Pawn in Their Game"and "Masters of War"; However, the
organization chose this song, "The Times They Are A-Changin".
Sometimes the reason for protest is a very personal one. Otis Redding wrote
this song. Soul singer Aretha Franklin asks the man in her life to honor her, to
show her some "Respect".
In hip-hop music, rappers have also made calls for social change. In 1989,
the hip-hop group Public Enemy sang about equal rights and freedom of speech in
the song "Fight the Power".
Singer John Lennon wrote and sang several protest songs. He wrote the song
"Imagine"in the late nineteen-sixties to call for peace during the Vietnam War.
Experts say the message of the song remains important today. It calls on people
all over the world to live in peace and unity.
We leave you now with the song “We Shall Overcome"; This song has been sung
around the world for many different causes, including civil rights, human rights
and workers' rights.
Our program was written and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Barbara Klein. Join
us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.