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On Emmett Till's 82nd Birthday, 5 Songs That Keep His Memory Alive

Till's memory is still honored today through songs like 'The Death of Emmett Till' by Bob Dylan and 'Stand Up,' by Jazmine Sullivan.

Today would have been the 82nd birthday of Emmett Till. In August 1955, Till was traveling from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi. At a grocery store in the small town of Money, Donham, then known simply as Carolyn Bryant, claimed that Till whistled at her. Because of her allegations, Till was kidnapped, physically tortured, and slain by Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, along with his half-brother J.W. Milam. Tills' body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. He was only 14 years old.

In honor of Till, here are five powerful songs that stand as enduring tributes to the memory of Emmett Till and the countless others who suffered from racial injustice. 

  • "Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone

    In 1964, the incomparable Nina Simone released "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the lack of justice for Emmett Till and other victims of racial violence. The song is a powerful anthem of protest against the racial segregation and violence that plagued America during that period. Simone's soulful vocals and fierce lyrics denounce the racial injustice and demand change, while also highlighting the urgent need for a more compassionate and equal society.

  • "The Death of Emmett Till" by Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan, the iconic folk singer and songwriter, penned "The Death of Emmett Till" in the early 1960s. The song captures the tragic tale of young Emmett's murder, painting a vivid picture of racial injustice and the need for societal change. Dylan's poignant lyrics and haunting melody strike a chord, evoking empathy and stirring emotions in listeners as they are confronted with the harsh realities of racism that still resonate today.

  • "Ode To Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry

    Bobbie Gentry, an American singer-songwriter, released "Ode To Billie Joe" in 1968. This emotionally charged song was inspired by Emmett Till's death. Gentry's haunting voice and poetic lyrics serve as a reminder of the enduring pain and injustice faced by African Americans during that era, urging listeners not to forget the past but to learn from it and strive for a better future.

  • "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday:

    Although "Strange Fruit" was not specifically written for Emmett Till, the song's hauntingly powerful portrayal of racial violence and lynching makes it a poignant tribute to his memory. Billie Holiday's rendition of this chilling song, originally written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, forces listeners to confront the horrifying reality of racism and its consequences. The song became an anthem of the civil rights movement and serves as a solemn reminder of the lives lost to racial hatred.

  • "‘Stand Up" by Jazmine Sullivan

    Written by Jazmine Sullivan for the 2022 Till biopic, this song appeared on the soundtrack. Sullivan said when penning the song, she especially wanted to honor Emmett's mother Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, "My first thought before seeing the film was that I’d probably write a heartbreaking song from a mother’s perspective because the story was so tragic. But after seeing the film, and talking with Chinonye, I felt the story was more about Mamie stepping into her power after what she had experienced and how she was able to use her heartbreak and turn it into inspiration for us all. She was so strong and I wanted people to hear that in the lyrics and vocals

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