Music has always intersected with historical events and movements. In many cases music has fueled movements forward and allowed more individuals to understand the scope of the issues being protested.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, musicians and bands focused on mobilizing a cause to end the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War lasted over sixteen years, and countless American and Vietnamese lives were lost. Pete Seeger, an American folk singer, wrote a song against the Vietnam War, singing “Bring ‘em Home.” This song was widely used as a tool of the peace movement and it represented widely held views against the war. He also wrote “Turn, Turn, Turn” which discretely advocated for peace. Both of these songs written by Seeger around the time of the Vietnam War served to embolden an increasing public dissatisfaction with the war and its many costs.
USA For Africa was created in 1985 by Harry Belafonte, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and Lionel Richie; as an American response to Band Aid’s song “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” The group performed pop-style songs on their We Are The World album. Their song,“We Are the World,” won a Grammy for song of the year and helped raise more than seven million for famine relief. Many groups and singers like USA For Africa, Band Aid, and others helped raise awareness and funds through charity songs. The African famine was a major social issue during this time period, and groups like this helped to raise money to provide medical aid, clothing, and food for countries in need.
The events of the September 11th terrorist attacks in late 2001 sparked a musical movement which highlighted patriotism and strength during a difficult time in our country’s history. Bruce Springsteen, a rock artist, performed “My City of Ruins,” breaking the silence after a period of fear and anxiety over safety and our nation’s future. Multiple musicians during this time period contributed to the healing of our country after the attacks and raised awareness about what happened on 9/11.
A lot of music today is reflective of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the issues that have caused it. We can reflect on Kendrick Lamar’s album, DAMN., which became the first non-jazz and non-classical album to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music. This album contains so many themes relevant to why this protest is important today. Artists like Lauryn Hill, Beyonce, and Kanye West have also all created music relating to police brutality and oppression against black people in America.
I will be releasing another blog post diving deeper into some of these modern movement songs, but for now most major music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have created playlists by black artists relating to the social issues that have prompted protests in all 50 states.The Rolling Stone also published a list of songs relating to the movement. Definitely check these out!