Protest songs bring music and message to people. In the following activities, you will remix lyrics from famous protest songs in U.S. history to create your own protest piece related to an issue you care about deeply. Then, analyze a political protest song and explore how it is used in social media today.
Music has been at the center of expressing protest and speaking out against social injustice from the American Revolutionary era to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
"Yankee Doodle" is widely regarded as the first American protest song, though it was originally written by British soldiers to mock the Americans and then adopted by the colonists as a rallying song for revolution.
"Free America" was another one of the first protest songs. It was composed by Joseph Warren, the man who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to spread the alarm that the British were coming on April 18, 1775.
A Jewish poet, Abel Meeropol (pseudonym Lewis Allen), wrote the song "Strange Fruit," which was sung by Billie Holiday to close her concerts (Blues as Protest, Library of Congress).
Woody Guthrie, born in Oklahoma in 1912, became a voice for ordinary people after traveling the country during the economic hard times of the Great Depression. His ballad "This Land Is Your Land" is one of 3000 songs he wrote during his lifetime.
In the current era, Black artists are speaking aggressively against White racism through music.
Activity 1: Remix Lyrics into Your Own Protest Song