10 Times Black Artists Mobilized Through Music

Extraordinary levels of performance and innovation have cemented black creatives as indispensable figures in the music industry. So, what happens when you combine this creative excellence with a history tarnished by violence and oppression? We are shown music’s full potential: its ability to challenge societal norms, foster empathy, and inspire change.

1.) “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke 

Released in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Cooke was inspired to write this powerful protest anthem after being arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana, for refusing to leave a hotel for the color of his skin.

2.) “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone

September 15th, 1963 four young black girls were killed at the hands of white supremacists in Alabama at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after hearing the news Nina Simone was moved to record “Mississippi Goddam.”

3.) “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye 

Perplexed by the violence unfolding across the U.S. and overseas in Vietnam, Co-Writer Obie Benson thought to himself, “What’s going on?” A year later, the song was finished and given to known social activist Marvin Gaye to record.

4.) “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron 

In a 1990 Interview, Scott-Heron expressed the intent behind the famous quote, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. “Revolutions happen in your mind” or are the result of changing minds, and that “can’t be caught on camera.”

5.) “We Are The World” by U.S.A. For Africa 

Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa (members include Stevie Wonder, Dianna Ross, and Tina Turner). “We Are the World” was an unprecedented social phenomenon that raised millions for the famine in Africa.  

10.) “U.N.I.T.Y” by Queen Latifah 

In this pioneering feminist anthem, Queen Latifah addresses the societal contempt felt toward women in a timeless call for unity and respect. 

7.) “Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac 

2pac’s story lyricism offers a glimpse into the world of black women in the early nineties, who occupied then and now one of the most vulnerable and taxing social positions in the United States. 

8.) “This Is American” by Childish Gambino

“This Is America” and its accompanying video provide a powerful commentary on the prevalence of gun culture and the violent, racist landscape of America. 

9.) “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar 

This song is a hopeful mantra that states boldly, “We gon be alright” despite obstacles, like circular poverty and police brutality, set in the path of black communities.

10.) “Freedom” by Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

Both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar have politically astute catalogs. These two prolific advocates joined forces to make this truly remarkable song about black resilience in the face of oppression.

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