Allies: Songs of Struggle

A month-long playlist celebrating the intersection of music and activism for June.

In observance of June as African-American Music Appreciation Month and LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and of World Music Day on June 21, Ridgefield Allies is celebrating music as it intersects with activism. Check in with us each day of June as we reveal each new entry in our month-long playlist and highlight that song’s importance in the struggle for social justice.


Can’t wait for the daily song reveals? Click the link to either of these popular streaming music services to see and listen to the complete month-long playlist:


June 23:

  • Song Name: Fables of Faubus
  • Artist: Charles Mingus
  • Year of Recording: 1959
  • Background:
    • In May 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, their landmark decision abolishing segregation in schools. The NAACP got to work immediately, attempting to enroll students of color in high schools around the south. The school board in Little Rock, Arkansas, became the first school district to approve a plan for integration, which would begin in the fall of 1957.
    • Nine Black students were enrolled at the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, but on the day that integration was to begin, the National Guard of Arkansas was called in on the orders of Governor Orval Faubus. Originally, the guard was there to prevent the students, now known as the “Little Rock Nine,” from entering the school. However, President Eisenhower issued an executive order federalizing the Arkansas National Guard, and then issued orders to protect the students.
    • It was a reaction to these events that led legendary jazz composer Charles Mingus to write “Fables of Faubus,” a scathing rebuke to Governor Faubus and his racist actions. Originally recorded as an instrumental version, lyrics were later added as a call and response between Mingus and his drummer Dannie Richmond.
      • Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie.
      • Governor Faubus!
      • Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
      • He won’t permit integrated schools.
      • Then he’s a fool! Boo! Nazi fascist supremists!
      • Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan). 
    • It is said that this song, whether it be the instrumental or lyrical version, is one that Mingus most often returned to in concert and on recordings.
Fables of Faubus – Instrumental
Fables of Faubus recording with Lyrics

June 22:

  • Song Name: Georgia
  • Artist: Brittany Howard
  • Year of Recording: 2019
  • Background:
    • You may best know Brittany Howard as the formidable lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter of the Grammy award-winning rock band, Alabama Shakes. While the Shakes are currently on an indefinite hiatus, Howard has released her first solo album, Jaime, named after her sister who died at the age of 13. 
    • While Howard won a Grammy for “Stay High,” we present to you here the smooth, dreamy “Georgia,” an R&B ballad about falling in love with an older woman as a young girl. Howard identifies as queer, and is married to fellow musician Jesse Lafser, but this song isn’t a true story. Instead, she drew on her experiences of not coming out until the age of 25, as the young woman in the song comes to terms with feelings she doesn’t yet quite understand. 
    • Here again we’ll quote Gregory Porter from a few entries back. “When you think about the best protest music … it’s beautiful music which carries a deeper meaning to the people you’re singing about. It’s not always overt: there are great protest songs where it actually took us a while to know they were protest songs. But a good protest song expresses the feeling of a situation to those people being subjected to certain conditions.”
    • In a world where the LGBTQ+ community still fights for recognition and respect, “Georgia” is quietly, contemplatively, revolutionary.

June 21:

  • Song Name: To Be Young, Gifted and Black
  • Artist: Donny Hathaway
  • Year of Recording: 1970

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is a song written by Nina Simone in the turbulent summer of 1968. We present to you here the version by Donny Hathaway because we wanted to expose you to a range of artists, and we could make an entire list of protest songs based on the great Ms. Simone. But no list would be complete without Donny’s smooth, pure tone, gently singing out this ode to Black beauty and potential. 

Check out this NPR Music piece on the song, which perfectly tells the story of how it came to be. 

“By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

First, there was the murder of Medgar Evers that summer. The civil rights leader was killed by a Klansman, shot in the back in his own driveway in Mississippi. Three months later, in Birmingham, Ala., four black girls were killed in a church bombing. In response to the grief and outrage, Simone wrote a powerful song with unsparing lyrics and a provocative title: “Mississippi Goddam.”

Then, in 1968, she identified a different side of the struggle. The Black Power movement was rising. Pride in being black and beautiful was expressed in big afros and raised fists. She aimed to capture that moment of joy in black identity — and though the song she wrote was addressed to children, it became an anthem for adults, too.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was a dedication to Nina Simone’s friend, the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry was the first black woman to have a play performed on Broadway; she and Simone bonded over civil rights and radical politics.

And then, in January 1965, Hansberry died of cancer at the age of 34. A few months before, she had told a group of student essay winners, “I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion because you are young, gifted and black”.


June 20:

  • Song Name: Woman
  • Artist: Andreya Triana
  • Year of Recording: 2018
  • Background:
    • Andreya Triana is a British singer and songwriter, known best for songs like “Woman,” which have been featured in various TV and film pieces. 
    • “She spent her early years with her single mother in Brixton. A stepfather arrived on the scene when she was seven, and a new job for him meant an unwanted relocation to sleepy Worcester when Triana was a teenager. Her song Broke is about the time when family was just her and her mum. “We were in flats so draughty that I got ill. We lived off rice. But I look back on those times I had with her and it was so idyllic, so wonderful,” she says. “It dramatically changed once she got married.” The song “Woman” is an attempt to offer a boost to those who might feel the way she once did. “It’s about how I felt throughout my teens and early twenties. I was very insecure, didn’t feel good about myself at all. I look back and it’s such a shame when young girls are growing up with no positive affirmation.” For more information about Andreya Triana.

June 19:

  • Song Name: 1960 What? (Opolopo Kick & Bass Rerub)
  • Artist: Gregory Porter
  • Year of Recording: 2010
  • Background:
    • Another example of the past resonating with the present, Gregory Porter’s “1960 What?” is a gorgeous, soulful examination of the kinds of tragedies that plagued the 1960s and beyond. The chorus refrain refers to the killings of Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and other civil rights leaders in the turbulent decade. Porter wrote the song shortly after his mother’s death, as he delved into her story of growing up in the South, reckoning with the recurring story of injustice that repeats itself again and again. It was played in Harlem jazz clubs long before the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, George Floyd, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, but feels more and more poignant with each horrible incident.
    • According to Porter, songs about romantic love are important, but there has to be room and air given to social change. 
      • “When you think about the best protest music, whether it’s Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ or Bob Marley, it’s beautiful music which carries a deeper meaning to the people you’re singing about. It’s not always overt: there are great protest songs where it actually took us a while to know they were protest songs. But a good protest song expresses the feeling of a situation to those people being subjected to certain conditions. Great hip hop, as an example, carries interesting self reflection and, almost like CNN or the BBC, reports and broadcasts what’s really happening on the streets, with the aspiration that hope will be coming their way.” 
    • Gregory Porter is a powerhouse – his awesome voice is not only a joy to listen to, but carries his message with the energy and intensity of all the greats who have come before him.

June 18:

  • Song Name: Glory
  • Artist: Common & John Legend
  • Year of Recording: 2014
  • Background:
    • This Oscar-winning, Golden Globe-winning, Grammy Award-winning song was recorded by Common and John Legend for Ava Duvernay’s 2014 historical drama Selma, about the 1965 voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Common wrote the powerful verses, set to nothing but piano and orchestral arrangements, no drumbeat. He then brought in John Legend to write and sing the hook, the result being a beautiful combination of spoken word and song.
    • Though the impetus for the song was for a movie about 1965, the relevance to the struggles of today are directly called out in verse. At the time of writing, Michael Brown had recently been killed by police in Ferguson, MO, and the similarities between the two events are impossible to ignore. 
      • One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
      • Truant livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
      • That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
      • That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up

June 17:

  • Song Name: Africa
  • Artist: D’Angelo
  • Year of Recording: 1998-1999
  • Background:
    • Originally written in honor of D’Angelo’s son, “Africa” ended up as a meditative lullaby, a tribute to Africa, history, and God. The last track on his 2000 album Voodoo, it starts with a shimmery rustle of chimes, and continues on to be “a gorgeous, opalescent closer … a prayer of sorts.” The theme of “Africa” centers around the geographic displacement of African Americans, and the search for a spiritual home. So much has been taken from Black Americans, and this song is a tribute to taking a part of it back, then passing it on to the next generation. 
    • Questlove, of The Roots, has said this is his favorite track off Voodoo, and went on to say: “[D’Angelo] didn’t see this at first because we had already done a song about his son. But I told him the music here fit the mood better. It’s like a bunch of toy boxes playing at once… It gives you that sad feeling that ‘Higher’ gave you on Brown Sugar; a dope song that you don’t want to hear because you know that this is the last song you’re gonna hear in some time. I know D wanted to do a song that spoke of history. Not just to his son. But to God, to Africa and the world.”
    • In 2001, Voodoo won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, and in 2003, Rolling Stone listed the album on its list “The Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.”
  • Song Name: Africa
  • Artist: D’Angelo
  • Year of Recording: 1998-1999
  • Background:
    • Originally written in honor of D’Angelo’s son, “Africa” ended up as a meditative lullaby, a tribute to Africa, history, and God. The last track on his 2000 album Voodoo, it starts with a shimmery rustle of chimes, and continues on to be “a gorgeous, opalescent closer … a prayer of sorts.” The theme of “Africa” centers around the geographic displacement of African Americans, and the search for a spiritual home. So much has been taken from Black Americans, and this song is a tribute to taking a part of it back, then passing it on to the next generation. 
    • Questlove, of The Roots, has said this is his favorite track off Voodoo, and went on to say: “[D’Angelo] didn’t see this at first because we had already done a song about his son. But I told him the music here fit the mood better. It’s like a bunch of toy boxes playing at once… It gives you that sad feeling that ‘Higher’ gave you on Brown Sugar; a dope song that you don’t want to hear because you know that this is the last song you’re gonna hear in some time. I know D wanted to do a song that spoke of history. Not just to his son. But to God, to Africa and the world.”
    • In 2001, Voodoo won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, and in 2003, Rolling Stone listed the album on its list “The Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.”

June 16:

  • Song Name: You Haven’t Done Nothin’
  • Artist: Stevie Wonder
  • Year of Recording: 1974
  • Background:
    • This song is an angry, acidic attack on US President Richard Nixon, who two weeks after the release of Fufillingness’ First Finale resigned over the Watergate scandal and left the White House in disgrace. Shortly after Nixon’s resignation, Wonder issued this statement: “Everybody promises you everything but in the end, nothing comes out of it. I don’t vote for anybody until after they have really done something that I know about. I want to see them do something first. The only trouble is that you always hear the president or people say that they are doing all they can. And they feed you with hopes for years and years. I’m sick and tired of listening to all their lies.”
    • There is some serious lyrical dissonance in this song, as the biting lyrics are accompanied by upbeat music. Wonder explained: “The best way to get an important and heavy message across is to wrap it up nicely. It’s better to try and level out the weight of the lyrics by making the melody lighter. After all, people want to be entertained, which is all right with me. So if you have a catchy melody instead of making the whole song sound like a lesson, people are more likely to play the tune. They can dance to it and still listen to the lyrics and hopefully think about them.”

June 15:

  • Song Name: You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
  • Artist: Sylvester
  • Year of recording: 1978
  • Background:
    • The story of Sylvester and his hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” is a fascinating one. Written by Sylvester and James Wirrick, it was originally recorded as a mid-tempo piano-driven gospel tune, but a remix by Patrick Cowley turned the song into an influential LGBTQ+ anthem, landing a place in the National Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
    • Sylvester grew up singing gospel in a Pentecostal church in the Watts neighborhood of California. Though his mother was disapproving of his flamboyant nature, Sylvester was always unapologetically, 100% himself. At 13, he fled the confines of his conservative church to live with his grandmother, who accepted him exactly as he was.
    • Though “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was Sylvester’s only #1 hit, he capitalized on the fame bestowed on him to champion gay rights and causes – particularly the fight against AIDS. He and his husband both died of complications from AIDS, and in his will, he left all future royalties of the song to two San Francisco nonprofits: the AIDS Emergency Fund and the meals program Project Open Hand. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” remains an uplifting tribute to being yourself.

June 14:

  • Song Name: I’m Coming Out
  • Artist: Diana Ross
  • Year of recording: 1980
  • Background:
    • When Diana Ross asked Chic founders to write some new material for her, and subsequently recorded her hit “I’m Coming Out,” she didn’t know that the song was intended as a gay anthem. According to Niles Rodgers, he was inspired to write the song after seeing a group of drag queens dressed as Diana Ross in a NYC club. “… so I went outside to call Bernard and said “you know, Diana Ross is revered by the gay community. If we wrote a song called “I’m Coming Out” for Diana Ross it would have the same power as James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and next day we met in the studio […] and then from that we built the song.”
    • For Ross, the song held another meaning. She was in the process of leaving her longtime label, Motown Records, so for her the song signified “coming out” from underneath Berry Gordy’s thumb. It is said she was not terribly pleased when she found out the song’s original intent. But with time, she came to embrace her status as a gay icon, and the song retains its power to this day. 
    • “I’m Coming Out” is exuberant, joyful, and full of promise. In other words, the perfect song for Pride! 

June 13:

  • Song Name: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
  • Artist: Marvin Gaye
  • Year of recording: 1971
  • Background:
    • Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)“, often shortened to “Inner City Blues“, is a song by Marvin Gaye, released as the third and final single from and the climactic song of his 1971 landmark album, What’s Going On. Written by Gaye and James Nyx Jr., the song depicts the ghettos and bleak economic situations of inner-city America, and the emotional effects these have on inhabitants.
    • In 1998, co-writer James Nyx Jr. recalled, “Marvin had a good tune, sort of blues-like, but didn’t have any words for it. We started putting some stuff in there about how rough things were around town. We laughed about putting lyrics in about high taxes, ’cause both of us owed a lot. And we talked about how the government would send guys to the moon, but not help folks in the ghetto. But we still didn’t have a name, or really a good idea of the song. Then, I was home reading the paper one morning, and saw a headline that said something about the ‘inner city’ of Detroit. And I said, ‘Damn, that’s it. ‘Inner City Blues’.”
https://youtu.be/eHUcaz7V-Po
Music video.

June 12:

  • Song Name: Rise Up
  • Artist: Andra Day
  • Year of recording: 2015
  • Background:
    • In this motivational song, Audra Day sings about rising up every day to keep working past our obstacles. Our challenges sometimes seem insurmountable, but if we keep fighting, day after day, we’ll overcome them eventually.
    • Day told Time about writing the song: “My music and my personal life were both stagnating at the time, and a friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer. “Rise Up” started as a sort of prayer – I thought about what I needed to hear to be able to get back on my feet. Most of the song came streaming out in the first freestyle recording. Honestly, there are lines in there I’d normally find cliché. But sometimes a good cliché is exactly what you need in a moment of hopelessness.”
    • Recently, Rise Up caught the attention of the Black Lives Matter Movement to which Andra Day offered her full throated support.

June 11:

  • Song Name: We The People
  • Artist: The Staple Singers
  • Year of recording: 1972
  • Background:
    • Started by the legendary Pops Staples with his children, The Staple Singers formed as a family gospel group in the early 1950s. With massive hits in the 1970s like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “Let’s Do It Again,” the band cemented its place in history as a powerful force in the world of soul and R&B. Pops was an activist who had a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. until his death in 1968, and the band reflected this activism with songs like “Long Walk To D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid?” His daughter Mavis continues to be a powerhouse as a solo artist, something of an understatement. 
    • One of the lesser known songs of the iconic Staple Singers, “We The People” was released in 1972, as incumbent Richard Nixon defended his presidency against Sen. George McGovern. The upbeat song is a call for unity, so it seems apt that almost 50 years later, it was chosen as the song to close out the Democratic National Convention in 2020, as then-candidate Joe Biden made the case to the nation that it was time to heal.

June 10:

  • Song Name: Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud
  • Artist: James Brown
  • Year of recording: 1968
  • Background:
    • Shortly after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Godfather of Soul recorded and released what would become an unofficial anthem for the Black Power movement. James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” shot to the top of the R&B singles chart, and stayed there for six weeks, though its legacy would endure far longer.
    • Brown’s proclamation of Black love was revolutionary, a reclamation after centuries of focus on all that was light-skinned and straight-haired. It may seem ironic that he would be the one to write this anthem, considering his somewhat conservative views and his devotion to his “conked” (chemically straightened) hair. But it was the anthem Black America needed. As Public Enemy’s Chuck D put it (see previous entry for more on Public Enemy), “‘Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’ was a record that really convinced me to say I was black instead of a negro. Back then black folks were called negroes, but James said you can say it loud: that being black is a great thing instead of something you have to apologise for.”
    • “Say It Loud” has gone on to be a major influence culturally and musically. It has been sampled countless times by multiple hip hop artists, covered by multiple artists, and lives in the psyche as a rallying cry for the movement, from civil rights to Black Lives Matter.
Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud audio
Clip from “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”

June 9:

  • Song Name: Fight the Power
  • Artist: Public Enemy
  • Year of recording: 1989
  • Background:
    • Originally conceived for Spike Lee’s 1989 Do The Right Thing, “Fight The Power” remains one of Public Enemy’s most well-known songs. In the movie, Radio Raheem (who blasts Public Enemy, and other hip hop, on his boombox wherever he goes) becomes a pop culture precursor to Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and the countless other young Black men killed by police in recent times. Much like the death of George Floyd, the whole community witnesses the death of Radio Raheem, but can do nothing. That’s right – Spike Lee made this eerily prescient movie 30 years ago, and it’s still just as relevant today.
    • In the first 12 seconds of “Fight The Power,” you’ll hear 8 samples. Like all their tracks – it is densely, ferociously packed – with beats, loops, and samples from the full diaspora of African-American pop culture. These references pay homage to historical figures, political figures, television shows, ads, the list goes on and on. It’s the reason Public Enemy is one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop. Their combination of musical experimentation and political consciousness helped cement them as revolutionary, with countless artists following in their wake celebrating afrocentric themes. Before Public Enemy political consciousness had never been presented in such a bombastic way, and it was impossible to ignore.

June 8:

  • Song Name: Born This Way – The Country Road Version
  • Artist: Lady Gaga
  • Year of recording: 2011
  • Background:
    • Although an empowerment anthem for everybody, it’s also inextricably linked to gay pride. Generally speaking, country music hasn’t traditionally been the go-to forum for the LGBTQ+ communities. But let’s think again. From Hank Williams to Carrie Underwood, country music has always lent itself to personal narratives of trauma and heartbreak, sure. But also of redemption and triumph. Isn’t that what “Born This Way” is all about?
    • If Gaga’s pop version left some fans unsatisfied, some suspect it’s because a hopeful message about celebrating authenticity—the “real you”—was being conveyed through her most synthetic sound yet.
    • This country version, though—slowed down and stripped to the vital components of grooving electric and acoustic guitars, a wailing harmonica, and thumping percussion—seems to remove that discrepancy between its style and its content.
Lady Gaga – Born This Way (The Country Road Version)

June 7:

  • Song Name: Strange Fruit
  • Artist: Billie Holiday
  • Year of recording: 1939
  • Background: “Strange Fruit” is a song written and composed by Abel Meeropol and recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyrics were drawn from a poem by Meeropol published in 1937. The song protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the great majority of victims were blackThe song has been called “a declaration” and “the beginning of the civil rights movement”. Meeropol set his lyrics to music with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan and performed it as a protest song in New York City venues in the late 1930s, including Madison Square Garden. Holiday’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. It was also included in the “Songs of the Century” list of the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The song has been covered by many artists, including Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Wyatt, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Diana Ross recorded the song for her debut film, the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972), and it was included on the chart topping soundtrack album. Andra Day also recorded the song for her award-winning acting debut in the 2021 Billie Holiday biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and it was included in the film’s topping soundtrack album.
Billie Holiday sings “Strange Fuit” live in 1959.

June 6:


June 5:

  • Song Name: I’ll Rise
  • Artist: Ben Harper
  • Year of recording: 1994
  • Background:
    • To tell the story of Ben Harper’s “I’ll Rise,” one first has to go back in time. In 1978, poet and luminary Maya Angelou released the now-famous poem “Still I Rise” in her anthology And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems. Her powerful words are an ode to survival, a theme that threads its way through much of Angelou’s works. They are also a soothing balm – in a 2008 interview, Angelou herself said “You know, if you’re lonely you feel you’ve been done down, it’s nice to have ‘And Still I Rise.'”
    • With only slight modifications, Ben Harper took Anglou’s words and set them to music in 1994. The result is hauntingly beautiful, a musical meditation rich with gospel notes, speaking to the pain and power woven into the American dream. Harper is a three-time Grammy winner known for his guitar skills, his lush vocals, and his activism. 
Ben Harper “I’ll Rise” Live, Paris 2000
”I’ll Rise” Audio
Maya Angelou reading “Still I Rise”

June 4:

  • Song Name: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free
  • Artist: Nina Simone
  • Year of recording: 1967
  • Background:
    • Originally written and performed by Billy Taylor, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” became an anthem for the civil rights movement when Nina Simone recorded it for her 1967 album Silk and Soul. Simone had performed the song two years earlier to commemorate the march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, on a stage propped up by coffins donated by local black-owned businesses. Later that night she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time. “According to Al Schackman, Simone reached out her hand to King as he approached and loudly declared, “I’m not non­violent!” King, momentarily taken aback, said gently, “Not to worry, sister.” Simone softened, put out her hand and purred, “I’m so glad to meet you.”
    • Nina Simone is a famously complicated woman, a brilliant, fearless truth-teller who personally struggled with drugs, depression, and bipolar disorder. Her outbursts on stage are well-documented. In fact, Darryl Jefferson, husband of Ridgefield Allies board member Kristy Jefferson, recalls attending a Nina Simone concert in 2000, years after she had moved from the United States to France in protest, “This was her only American performance in decades. She was in the middle of a set and someone from the crowd shouted “Welcome home!” She stopped the music dead, looked out and said “this is not my home. I live somewhere else.” 
    • “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” is accompanied by a deceptively cheerful piano melody. It’s a beautiful song made all the more poignant when considering the oppression it speaks out against. Check out the video for a compelling live performance from Simone in 1976, with a somewhat different take on this classic.

June 3:

  • Song Name: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  • Artist: Gil Scott-Heron
  • Year of recording: 1971
  • Background: Born out of the era of The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, and the other predecessors of hip hop and rap, Gil Scott Heron exploded into the mainstream in 1970 with his debut single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The track’s spoken word storytelling accompanied by minimalist percussion and instrumentation conveys the idea that if you want change, you cannot be a passive participant. You have to get up, get out into the streets, and be the change you want to see. Said Heron in a 1990s interview (see the interview clip that follows the song video below):
    • “The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. It will just be something you see and you’ll think ‘Oh I’m on the wrong page.’ Or ‘I’m on the right page but on the wrong note.’ You have to get in sync with everyone else to understand what’s going on in the country.”
  • This classic was added to the National Registry of the Library of Congress in 2005, and Gil Scott-Heron was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. In addition to being cited as an enormous influence on the genre of rap and hip hop, it is used as a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement to this day. 
Audio live performance with introduction by Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron explaining the meaning behind “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

June 2:

  • Song Name: Black Myself
  • Artist: Our Native Daughters
  • Year of recording: 2019
  • Background: Folk singer Amythyst Kiah co-wrote three songs on Songs for Our Native Daughters, the brilliant 2019 album guided by Our Native Daughters creator Rhiannon Giddens. The song, which also won Song of the Year at Folk Alliance International’s 2020 International Folk Music Awards, carries the cadence and repetition of a marching anthem—or a field-work song. With Our Native Daughters, the quartet of banjo-playing Black women, also including Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell and Giddens’ former Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate, Leyla McCalla, Kiah delivered a rootsy but rockin’ version. In her lyrics, she alludes to the grinding pain of oppression and the hypocrisy of oppressors. Then she decides to shed that weight and rise up to claim her equal place in the world. Backed with tight, gospel-tinged harmonies, banjos and Cajun accordion by album co-producer Dirk Powell, Kiah fuses her determination and pride into empowerment. 

June 1:

  • Song Name: I Can’t Breathe
  • Artist: H.E.R. 
  • Year of recording: 2020
  • Background: Shortly after the death of George Floyd in 2020, video evidence of his murder forever changed our relationship to police brutality. Though it was by no means the first instance caught on tape, the more than nine minutes of footage ignited a firestorm of protests across the entire world. H.E.R. transformed Floyd’s last words, as well as the last words of at least 70 others killed by police, into a rallying cry. This Grammy award-winning song is an outpouring of raw emotion from H.E.R., as she describes the fear, pain, and anxiety that have always come with being Black in America. 
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