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Sunday 4:15pm

'A change is gonna come': how music shaped and was shaped by the black civil rights movement

Art and culture

Introduced by Sydney socialist and activist Kerri Parke.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come” – Sam Cooke

The civil rights movement and its achievements was the epitome of ordinary people behaving in extraordinary ways, changing the American way of life, whose reverberations can still be felt today. The participants of the civil rights movement identified the power of Sam Cooke’s words – welcoming Cooke’s recognition of the significance of the movement and identified the ability of the words to empower, invigorate and inspire the movement. This kind of reciprocal cultural communication was an inherent part of the civil rights movement; from the gospel and spiritual songs sung at church (often the site of mass meetings during campaigns), to the rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues songs of the pop charts. Musicians have often used their art to disseminate political ideas, ideas which reflected both the frustration and hope behind the struggle as well as the resilience, courage and determination of the movement, which in turn, influenced the musicians.

This session will look at both the politics of the movement and the politics of the music that provided the soundtrack to the movement.


Civil Rights Music: The Soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement – Reiland Rabaka

Sweet Soul Music – Peter Guralnick

A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America – Craig Werner

A Rebel’s Guide to Martin Luther King – Yuri Prasad

A Rebel’s Guide to Malcolm X – Antony Hamilton

Black Liberation and Socialism – Ahmed Shawki

Roots of the Civil Rights Movement –Ahmed Shawki – found at http://www.isreview.org/issues/45/civilrights.shtml

LISTEN: only a small selection of all the wonderful music of the era

I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone

Young, Gifted and Black – Aretha Franklin

John Coltrane – Alabama (listen together with MLK’s I Have a Dream speech)

People Get Ready – The Impressions

Freedom Highway – The Staple Singers

The Times They Are A-Changing – Bob Dylan

Say It Loud – James Brown

A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Mississippi Goddamn – Nina Simone

Biilie Holiday – Strange Fruit

Mahalia Jackson – How I Got Over

Respect Yourself – The Staple Singers

Aretha Franklin - Respect

To Be Young, Gifted and Black – Nina Simone

We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Riders and Sit-Ins – Various Artists

Civil Rights Music – Various Artists

All available on Spotify


Eyes on the Prize – 14-part documentary (an absolute gem) – available on You Tube

View Full Program