A guide about the Civil Rights Era through its music history. Scroll down for videos & stories.
At left: Julie Mazer (Madison, WI) performs songs of strength and resilience.
Bob Dylan wrote
"The Times They Are A Changin"
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you Is worth savin' Then you better start swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'. Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen And keep your eyes wide The chance won't come again And don't speak too soon For the wheel's still in spin
It's a call to the public to be mindful as we observe what is happening around us - the times they are a changin' is well known as a protest song.
Jacob's Ladder is a folk song & Hymn
The song grew out of the American slave culture of about two centuries ago. Songs with the “ladder” motif have been traced back as far as 1824, and represent an upward struggle to reach a better place and a better life.
Listen to Bernice Johnson Reagon and a gospel choir sing:
We are climbing Jacob's Ladder
Soldier's of the Cross
Bernice Johnson Reagon is a
singer, composer, scholar, and social activist who founded the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973.
Video credit: Ken Burn's 1990 documentary 'The Civil War"
This is another well-known so-called "slave song" adapted by musicians - The Swan Silvertones were popular in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Reverend Claude Jeter popularized this song in the gospel style.
Joan Baez sings "We Shall Overcome"
This song has a long history - well before the 1960s civil rights era -
Joan Baez performed "We Shall Overcome" at the White House in front of President Barack Obama, at a celebration of music from the period of the civil rights movement
Its lyrics (words) originated in a hymn written in 1900 by Charles Albert Tindley.
The modern version of the song was first said to have been sung by tobacco workers led by Lucille Simmons during a 1945 cigar workers strike in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1947, the song was published under the title "We Will Overcome" in an edition of the People's Songs Bulletin (a publication of People's Songs, an organization of which Pete Seeger was the director).
Julie writes: "We Shall Overcome" is considered to be a key anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. I included 6 verses, because I believe all of them to be true."
Duke Ellington - Breakfast Dance.
The music of the Civil Rights era was presented in the spirit of HOPE - hope for a better future, and for justice to prevail.
In that spirit, below is a video that features "What a Wonderful World" - sung by Louis Armstrong.
Rutha Mae Harris is an original member of the Freedom Singers This video is from the Historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which is part of the Albany, Ga., Civil Rights Institute.
Click below for more resources from the Music by Black Composers Project.
Join my studio on our journey of discovery - music of the Civil Rights Era and the history of music for Social Justice; a conversation about the Music by Black Composers project - https://www.musicbyblackcomposers.org/