Civil Rights Era Protest Songs

Empowering music that spurred on the movement.

Day O!: Civil Rights Era Protest Songs - Just as the Civil Rights Era was bubbling, Harry Belafonte released "Day O!" (1956), a Jamaican folk song about a worker getting his just due after a long night on the graveyard shift. This and many other songs symbolically or explicitly spurred the civil rights movement, as spirituals did to help guide slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, and as Jay Z says that hip hop does to inspire folks out of poverty ("Do this s--t for my town/Leave the door open hoping they kick it down," he spits on "Nickles and Dimes"). But no matter how music evolves, it's important that we remember. Click on for more songs that we need to keep playing.(Photo: dpa /Landov)

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Day O!: Civil Rights Era Protest Songs - Just as the Civil Rights Era was bubbling, Harry Belafonte released "Day O!" (1956), a Jamaican folk song about a worker getting his just due after a long night on the graveyard shift. This and many other songs symbolically or explicitly spurred the civil rights movement, as spirituals did to help guide slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, and as Jay Z says that hip hop does to inspire folks out of poverty ("Do this s--t for my town/Leave the door open hoping they kick it down," he spits on "Nickles and Dimes"). But no matter how music evolves, it's important that we remember. Click on for more songs that we need to keep playing.(Photo: dpa /Landov)

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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. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Nina Simone ? "Mississippi Goddam" (1964)  - "Mississippi Goddam," pianist and singer Nina Simone's 1964 response to the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was banned in several southern states. Along with "Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," "Mississippi Goddam" was one of her most famous protest songs.   (Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Landov)  

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Nina Simone – "Mississippi Goddam" (1964) - "Mississippi Goddam," pianist and singer Nina Simone's 1964 response to the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was banned in several southern states. Along with "Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," "Mississippi Goddam" was one of her most famous protest songs. (Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Landov)  

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Otis Redding – "Respect" (1965) - Otis Redding's version of "Respect" in 1965 preceded Aretha Franklin's popular 1967 version. Although the songs have similar lyrics and both serve a double meaning, Redding's call for respect (in either love or a social context) was more of a plea than a command like Franklin's. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Aretha Franklin ? "Respect" (1967) - Although the track was originally released by Otis Redding in 1965, Aretha's version two years later took on a life of its own. Franklin's authoritative version became a feminist anthem and also doubled as a empowering anthem in the civil rights movement.   (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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Aretha Franklin – "Respect" (1967) - Although the track was originally released by Otis Redding in 1965, Aretha's version two years later took on a life of its own. Franklin's authoritative version became a feminist anthem and also doubled as a empowering anthem in the civil rights movement. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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.   (Photo: CBS /Landov)

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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. (Photo: CBS /Landov)

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Marvin Gaye – What's Going On album (1971) - Marvin Gaye's 1971 classic What's Going On is a concept album that narrates the story of a Vietnam vet as he arrives back home from war. The title track became a crossover hit and one of the most memorable anti-war songs of the era. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," also on the album, touched on the poor economic situation that plagued America's ghettos, while "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" talked about the poor state of the environment in the years that followed the civil rights movement. (Photo: Jim Britt/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

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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. (Photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Fans Want Museum for John Coltrane - Volunteers are organizing to restore the former home of late jazz musician John Coltrane in Dix Hills, Long Island, New York. Musicians Carlos Santana and his son Ravi are backing the effort to raise $1.5 million to turn the four-bedroom house into a museum in time for the 50th anniversary of Coltrane?s album A Love Supreme in 2014. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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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.(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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The Staple Singers – "Long Walk to D.C." (1968) - Many songs from the civil rights era were inspired and produced by gospel music and artists. The Chicago-bred gospel and R&B group The Staples Singers recorded "Long Walk to D.C.," their tribute to Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington, in 1968. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) 

Grant Green ? His Majesty King Funk album (1965)   - Grant Green's 1965 jazz album His Majesty King Funk featured many political tracks, including "The Selma March," which commemorated the two failed attempts at marching ? the first which ended in bloodshed and the second which was halted by a restraining order ? prior to the final, successful journey in 1965.  (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) 

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Grant Green – His Majesty King Funk album (1965)  - Grant Green's 1965 jazz album His Majesty King Funk featured many political tracks, including "The Selma March," which commemorated the two failed attempts at marching — the first which ended in bloodshed and the second which was halted by a restraining order — prior to the final, successful journey in 1965. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) 

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Billie Holiday – "Strange Fruit" (1939)  - Jazz singer Billie Holiday's 1939 song "Strange Fruit" is one of the most famous and powerful protest songs in the history of America. The song expressed the horror of the lynchings of blacks in the country by using the extended metaphor of fruit growing from the trees, i.e. "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root." Although the song preceded the civil rights movement by many years, it had a major influence on numerous artists who chose to express their resistance to prejudice and racism on record during the civil rights era and was most recently sampled up by Kanye West for his Yeezus album. (Photo:  Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan ? "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) - Sam Cooke (and many other black protest songwriters) were inspired by Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and other anti-prejudice songs. Cooke stated that he was blown away by the poignant song, wowed by the fact that it was penned by a non-black person. Dylan ultimately made a career out of anti-establishment songs.   (Photo: dpa /Landov) 

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Bob Dylan – "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) - Sam Cooke (and many other black protest songwriters) were inspired by Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and other anti-prejudice songs. Cooke stated that he was blown away by the poignant song, wowed by the fact that it was penned by a non-black person. Dylan ultimately made a career out of anti-establishment songs. (Photo: dpa /Landov)