Discuss the current status of protest music in America. Who is involved and what messages are being conveyed? Are these artists working outside of the mainstream market by choice?
The history of protest music is neither new nor unique to America. The known history dates back to 2000 B.C when Chinese emperors sent away the officers of the court to record songs of the masons who were building the Great Wall of China (Dunaway, Denselow, Lieberman, Hampton & Harker, 1992). Protest music has played a significant role in the history of America. The Oral Tradition has influenced the social functions of America and songs of political dissent and justice have become part of the American culture. Different cultures across the world have devised different means of social protest, and in North America, most widespread forms of protests are songs of social protest. During the second half of the 20th century protest music was a combination of both popular music and social justice. Several masterpieces were penned down by the native Americans, which forced the American nation to overthrow the oppressive American laws of discrimination against people. The earliest American protest songs of the seventeenth century were crafted to bring people together over primary purposes. These earliest songs were a combination of simple verses, easy-to-learn lyrics and hymns people had in their cultures (Dunaway, Denselow, Lieberman, Hampton & Harker, 1992). These songs were so diverse that people from almost every area found common ground over them. While early protest songs were about the revolutionary war grounded in the themes of social injustice, the cruelty of systems, after the great revolution in America, the early 20th century saw the race struggles (“The history of American protest music, from “Yankee Doodle” to Kendrick Lamar”, 2019). The African Americans were oppressed and marginalized in American society. Martin Luther King Jr and other revolutionary socialist srebuked the racial discrimination of the Black people in America.
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The list of people involved in the protest songs is never-ending. Although some artists and song makers have had a significant impact throughout American history, the all-time best protest song by Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” astounded the audiences and redefined popular music of America in 1939 (Lynskey, 2019). In the 21st century most popular artists are stirring the people, especially the masses of color. With the release of 2016 Beyoncé album “Lemonade” politics was embraced with provocative statements on black oppression in songs. This includes the songs “Formation” and “Freedom”. The Hip-hop artists of this era Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels are celebrated as common household names for protest songs (“Protest music helped save 20th-century America. But are today’s pop artists up to the task?”, 2019). Moreover, other underground artists, including Jon Connon and Moe Pope write about the themes of social and political issues of great America.
The messages conveyed by the protest music changed through history depending on the prevalent issues. Different protest songs of old centuries choose different issues to address. The earliest American protest songs were about the civil war, the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. The earliest twentieth century’s protest songs were based on themes of the labor movement, class struggle and the Great War. The other half of the twentieth century included the themes of the Great Depression and racial discrimination against African Americans. After 1950’s protest songs were for the Vietnam War and peace. The 21st-century protest songs were inclined towards political carnage. The themes discussed in the new century are gender conformity, political deterioration, capitalist nature of people, war and violence, media brainwashing, religious fundamentalism, racial inequality, mass incarceration, cultural bondage and technological destruction in the society.
With more access to internet, many artists who have stayed anonymous and not fallen under the limelight, have been discovered. Their purpose is not discarded, and they have contributed to their desired topics. Several underground artists have come up with Rap songs which add enthusiasm, rage and furiousness inciting masses to work towards the cause (Wheeler, 2019). These artists have produced the majestic pieces of works, which are well-crafted and appeal to masses.
- The history of American protest music, from “Yankee Doodle” to Kendrick Lamar. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/4/12/14462948/protest-music-history-america-trump-beyonce-dylan-misty
- Lynskey, D. (2019). Strange Fruit: the first great protest song. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/feb/16/protest-songs-billie-holiday-strange-fruit
- Dunaway, D. (1987). Music and Politics in the United States. Folk Music Journal, 5(3), 268-294. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4522239
- Protest music helped save 20th-century America. But are today’s pop artists up to the task? (2019). Retrieved from https://qz.com/949864/protest-music-helped-save-20th-century-america-but-are-todays-pop-artists-up-to-the-task/
- Wheeler, R. (2019). The Ten Most Effective American Protest Songs. Retrieved from https://www.riverfronttimes.com/musicblog/2011/07/01/the-ten-most-effective-american-protest-songs
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