Juneteenth Playlist: Kendrick Lamar, Nina Simone, Rihanna And More

Ten songs to uplift your Juneteenth celebration.

Today marks 158 years since Black people in Galveston, Tex., were informed about the Emancipation Proclamation, which mandated the end of enslavement two years earlier. However, technically, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free Black people; it was a war document that allowed Black people to fight in the Civil War and only applied to areas where President Lincoln had no jurisdiction (Lincoln refused to free enslaved people in border states, where he had jurisdiction). Being that Texas was under the Confederacy, the Emancipation Proclamation had no impact. Two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered, U.S. Army Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in  Galveston and read General Order No. 3, which declared federal enforcement of the policy signed by Lincoln, who had been assassinated two months earlier.

The day was a cultural celebration observed mainly by Black people in the southern and southwestern United States, and it became a state holiday in Texas in 1980. After passing in both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support, President Biden signed the bill to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday. 

The push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was led by Opal Lee, a 97-year-old resident of Fort Worth, Tex., whose family was celebrating Juneteenth in 1939 when she was 12, but was terrorized by a white mob that attacked her home and burned it down. She refused to give up on the holiday spirit, becoming an activist to create awareness of the cultural celebration. In 2016, she walked from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. to advocate for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday.

In honor of Juneteenth, here is a playlist of ranging from the early 1900s to today. 

  • Nina Simone - "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" (1969)

    First performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in August 1969, this Nina Simone song is a true celebration of Blackness. 

  • Stevie Wonder - "Black Man" (1976)

    Highlight Black men from the revolutionary war to the 1970s, the Stevie Wonder song is a robust history lesson -- that would probably get banned in Florida if it was released today.

  • "Alright" By Kendrick Lamar

    Kendrick Lamar reminds us that, no matter what, we are a resilient kind in his "Alright."

  • Rihanna - "Lift Me Up (From Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)" 2022

    Rihanna's classic from  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is beautiful track about Black resilience.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video.

  • Sam Cooke – "A Change Is Gonna Come" (1964)

    One of the rare musical artists who was equally adept in the pop, political and religious genres, Sam Cooke wasn't afraid to throw his hat into the political arena. The singer's 1964 single "A Change Is Gonna Come," inspired by Bob Dylan's "Blowin in the Wind," was drafted in May of 1963 after Cooke spoke with participants of a sit-in demonstration in Durham, North Carolina.

  • James Brown – "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968)

    "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" became one of the many rallying cries of the Black Power and civil rights movements during the 1960s. Brown's pride-filled track touched on issues of prejudice and racism in America.

  • Gil Scott Heron – "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1971)

    The oft-quoted song from Gil Scott Heron's 1971 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox became one of the most popular political songs of the time. The phrase has been used numerous times across all genres of music in the years since its release to call listeners to consciousness.

  • John Coltrane – "Alabama" (1963)

    Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane penned "Alabama" in 1963 in response to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which took the lives of four black girls. The Birmingham, Alabama, attack on a black church, initiated by local Ku Klux Klan members, contributed to widespread support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2007, Coltrane won a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for the powerful song that acknowledged the tragedy

  • "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (1917)

    In 1917, the song was deemed the Black American National Anthem by the NAACP. It was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson. See Beyonce's soul-stirring of the performance of the song above. 

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