New Course: Popular Music, Protest, and Social Justice — Spring 2019

Popular Music, Protest, and Social Justice, Spring 2019

“The civil rights movement would not have succeeded if it hadn’t been for all those songs. No one can prove anything, but of course if I didn’t believe it had some kind of power, I wouldn’t be trying to do it.” – Pete Seeger

Popular musicians use their platform to release songs, videos, and statements that reveal, condemn, and inspire action in response to perceived social, political, and military injustices. Songs educate in ways classrooms cannot. Songs amplify the voices of those who have been silenced. Songs unite people around a common cause. Their words become collective cries expressing anger, despair, hope, and a desire for change. Think “We Shall Overcome.” Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Beyonce’s “Formation” video and performance at Super Bowl 50.

Protest songs exist within a complex system of power, cultures, values, politics, entertainment, and texts. In this course, we will consider that complex system by analyzing protest songs that cover important issues, including race, civil rights, war, labor, and immigration, from Slave Spirituals to the Civil Rights Movement; anti-war and pro-labor folk movements of the 1960s and 70s to punk rock of the late 1970s and Riot Grrrl in 1990s; rap and hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s to the anti-war movement in the early 2000s; and artists, like Childish Gambino, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, and others. In doing so, we will see how protest music fights power, encourages activism, and, perhaps, affects change.

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