The history of American protest music, from “Yankee Doodle” to Kendrick Lamar

By Bridgett Henwood, Vox.com

“We don’t believe you, ’cause we the people / Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you,” Q-Tip raps on A Tribe Called Quests’s 2016 track “We The People,” an opening verse aimed straight at a flawed America. As the song goes on, it calls out specific social problems in the US — discrimination, unequal pay, deportation. It’s a protest song through and through.

vox.com

The tradition goes back to the country’s founding. “Free America” was one of the nascent US’s first protest songs, a Revolutionary War call to action song by minuteman Joseph Warren. “Yankee Doodle,” now popular as a children’s song, was actually written by British soldiers mocking their American counterparts during the Revolutionary War, but Americans took up the tune ironically to toss it back in the Brits’ faces….

Nowhere was this more apparent than in Billie Holiday’s 1939 song “Strange Fruit.” As music journalist Dorian Lynskey writes in his book 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day, Holiday’s tune was the first of its kind, bringing protest songs into the popular music realm. “Up until this point, protest songs functioned as propaganda, but ‘Strange Fruit’ proved they could be art,” Lynskey writes. [Editor’s note: “Strange Fruit” is actually about a northern lynching.]

Unlike the protest songs of the Civil War era, “Strange Fruit” wasn’t a chant or a call to arms. It was a harrowing commentary on the state of the country, designed to make people sit up and pay attention….

Sam Cooke set a different tone with 1964’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a track that expressed less anger and more melancholy hopefulness. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, an early 1970s protest song, could be applied to a number of different grievances. “It alluded to all of these changes in society and all of these struggles,” says Roberts, “but he keeps coming back to this statement, sometimes a question. It can be directed toward multiple people and institutions.”

Beyonce, one of the many celebrities who used her platform to protest American history and called her fans to get in ‘Formation’ to do the same. Credit genius.com

These songs quickly faded into the political past with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. With a Democrat in the White House for the first time in eight years, and the first black president at that, liberal musicians took up a different songwriting mantle: the empowerment song….

Take Beyoncé’s “Formation,” which she surprise-debuted by uploading the video to her YouTube page the day before she was set to perform at the 2016 Super Bowl. The video features shots of post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, cops in riot gear, and references to Black Lives Matter, and set the stage for her Black Panther–inspired halftime show. Within hours, the hashtag #Formation was trending, giving people a space to talk about the video, the artist who made it, and the issues it presented.

 Read the full article here.

More Breaking News here.

 Read more about Billie Holiday here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Lynching Survivor’s Memoir Wins Prestigious Book Award

For Immediate Release
For more information, contact
Tammy Belton-Davis at (414) 339-7604
or tammy@athenacommunicationsllc.com

ToT front w back excerptMILWAUKEE (May 25, 2016) – Dr. James Cameron’s memoir A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story recently received the 20th Annual 2016 Independent Publisher Book Award. “IPPY” Awards are presented to the year’s best titles in the important and growing arena of independent publishing. A Time of Terror garnered the Silver Medal for the Great Lakes – Best Regional Non-Fiction during an awards ceremony held May 10th in Chicago.

A Time of Terror is the only lynching account ever written by a survivor. The photograph of this horrific spectacle, in which two other boys died, is the most well-recognized of such images in the world. It inspired the song “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday. Only sixteen when the 1930 lynching took place, Cameron wrote his memoir at the age of twenty-one. It was published almost fifty years later and became an instant media sensation.

Baby Jimmie Cameron in his mother Vera's arms, surrounded by female relatives in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 1914.

Baby Jimmie Cameron in his mother Vera’s arms, surrounded by female relatives in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 1914.

This expanded third edition includes never-before-published chapters and fifty vintage photographs. It also contains over 100 annotations that provide definitions of the era’s expressions and background on historical characters and events. A Foreword by bestselling author James Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me) explains how Cameron’s story sheds light on current race relations in America. An Introduction by historian Robert Smith and educator Fran Kaplan helps the reader grasp the social and cultural environment in which young Cameron grew up. The Afterword by ABHM Head Griot Reggie Jackson describes Cameron’s adult life — after his memoir ends — as a civil rights pioneer and public historian.

“Cameron’s memoir is an inspired meditation on individual human endeavor, comparable to the trials and tribulations of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, but with an uplifting ending,” writes one reviewer, Dr. Stephen Small, professor of African-American Studies at the University of California-Berkeley.

lifewrites-press-logoThe book is available for purchase through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com for $24.99. A schedule of book talks and signings, as well as downloadable book excerpts, can be found at www.atimeofterror.info. The book was published by LifeWrites Press, the publishing arm of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, which also operates America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Fran Kaplan (L) and Reggie Jackson (R) accepting the Silver IPPY medals on May 10, 2016, in Chicago. They are two of four authors who contributed the additional materials included in A Time of Terror's 3rd edition.

Fran Kaplan (L) and Reggie Jackson (R) accepting the Silver IPPY medals on May 10, 2016, in Chicago. They are two of four authors who contributed the additional materials included in A Time of Terror’s 3rd edition.

“We are so honored to receive this prestigious award honoring Dr. Cameron and his story,” said Reggie Jackson, Head Griot (docent) of America’s Black Holocaust Museum. “Despite the terrible trauma he suffered in his youth, Dr. Cameron never lost his hope and faith in America and its ideals. His accomplishments as a civil rights pioneer, working man, self-taught historian, writer, father of five, and founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum are nothing short of phenomenal.”

The “IPPY” Awards, launched in 1996, bring  recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers around the world.

Happy Birthday Billie Holiday!

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born on this date in 1915. She was an African-American vocalist, one of the greatest jazz-blues singers of all time, also known as Lady Day.

Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, she spent an impoverished childhood in Baltimore before moving to New York City in the late 1920s, when she began singing in Harlem nightclubs. A recording session in 1935 brought her to public attention. Thereafter she was vocalist with various orchestras, including those of Count Basie and Artie Shaw, and made many recordings with the saxophonist Lester Young and with the pianist Teddy Wilson.

Read more about Billie here and here.