Civil Rights and American Music

As we’re diving into our case study of the civil rights movement, I’m baffled by how much I don’t know.  It’s not often that high school aged students get to learn about topics of such importance and weight, but I’m very happy we are.  In this blog entry I’m going to recap on some of the vast amount we’ve learned so far, and a few of the thoughts I’ve had along the way.

The first thing our teacher said to us in our first zoom call of this unit was “you are a racist”.  A strong way to begin the case study for sure, but it got us thinking. No I’m not a racist, that’s a fact.  Although, are there any things that I think or do that are descendant of the racism that’s ingrained in our society?  Yeah, I think so.  I realized that I don’t appreciate enough the privilege I have as a young, white, middle class person.  I realized that sometimes I subconsciously make premature judgements based on how a person looks.  It really started off this unit on a note that would carry throughout the coming months, and I’ve learned to appreciate it, and this style of learning.  We’re not reading a textbook, followed by a test.  We are being tested everyday on our understanding, opinions, and intelligence for developing original thought.

To guide this case study we’ve been split into 3 groups, each with a prompt question designed to guide our learning.  The questions are:

Why do we hate?

What role does culture play in showing us who we are?

Are we doomed to repeat history?

What role does culture play in showing us who we are?

I chose question number two because I personally found it the most thought provoking.  Our culture is shaped by the big events that happen, and our culture shapes us.  So by learning about the important matters of the past in this case study, and thinking about them through this question, I’m bound to discover more about myself, and the role I play in this.

America’s Musical Journey

One of the first main topics we learned about in this unit is the journey of American music, and that’s what I’ll be focussing on here.  We started this off by listening to a podcast, and watching a movie that introduced us to some of the history of black music.  I learned about songs that I’d never have guessed came from an African American musician, because they were popularized by a white person.  As I dug deeper through articles, and movies I realized that most of the classic music from America, was indeed black music.  How did I not know this?  Well because that was the times, white people taking credit for African American music was tame compared to lots of other occurrences.  But why was black music so good?  Well it can trace back to the slave trade, when African Americans were taken from their homes to come to America to work unwillingly and in brutal conditions, and how they found solace in those trying times, with music.  To escape the reality they were in they looked back upon their musical memories from their homeland to find comfort.  Music wasn’t just pleasure, but it was their means of survival, to keep their spark alive.  That magic translated for centuries in their songs, the soulful and heartfelt music that got them through the hardest times being passed down generations.  Especially when the genre of gospel was developed was when black music turned from solace and comfort, to god.  I remember when watching the movie “Selma” there was a moment when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the singer Mahalia Jackson in the night because he needed to hear god voice.  I assumed that she was going to read bible verses to him, but of course she began to sing.  She sang about the lord to comfort Dr. King, and express to him that god was with him on his quest.

Bringing this knowledge back to the question I’ve been prompted with (What role does culture play in showing us who we are?) I’ve realized how I personally find comfort in music when times are hard, and how this music that I’m learning about has affected our culture, and me.  I’m so grateful for the development of music in America because songs from the genres developed there have influenced my life, and countless other lives, for the better.  It’s so fascinating how American music melted and warped over the years, and how it’s still changing today, it’s story isn’t over and it may never be over.  Music has a constant shifting, that’s part of the beauty of it, and our relationships with it is quite magical.  Music brings people together from all walks of life, it drives movements, and it changes lives.