Music and Freedom
Overarching Question: How is black music today connected to the challenges of years past?
Music has been a source of inspiration and strength for many people, but it holds special significance for blacks as they used song from the times of slavery up to today to reflect on struggles and urge themselves forward. This article highlights musical contributions from contemporary greats such as Common and John Legend back to older musical geniuses such as Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, and the Staple Singers.
Tip: Assign Instructions
Understanding the article: Comprehension Questions
Middle and high school (grades 6, 9, 12)
- In the introduction, the author quotes a line from the song “Glory”: “We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through.” Why do you think the rapper Common mentions blood in this line?
- Choose a line from the article that draws the clearest connection between protest songs in the 1960s and protest songs today.
- In the last paragraphs of the article, why does the author go into detail about the Staples Singers’ live concert?
Elementary school (grades 4 and 5)
- Why did the rapper Common mention Rosa Parks in the song “Glory”?
- Choose a line from the article that explains why music is so important to the civil rights movement.
- Why do you think Pops Staples named his song “Freedom Highway”?
Tip: Shared Annotations
Classroom Activity: Musical Reflections
Now, let’s bring music into the classroom. Split your students up into 4 groups. Have students listen to these 4 songs: “Glory” (Common and John Legend), “A Change is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke), “Freedom Highway” (The Staples Singers), “Keep on Pushing” (Curtis Mayfield).
Then have students answer the following questions:
- Who do you think is singing the song? Who is the audience?
- What is the tone of the song? How do you know?
- What are the major themes in this song?
- How does this song make you feel?
Once students finish discussing in their groups, have a whole class discussion where students compare and contrast their answers.
Have students write lyrics to their own song that touches on a struggle that they are passionate about.
Singing songs for encouragement and strength doesn’t just go back to the civil rights movement; it’s been a part of black culture in America since the first slaves were brought to the continent. Have students analyze songs sung during slavery to determine the importance of song for slaves.