The Mid-Week Beat: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-005With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up this Monday, this week is a chance for us to remember this great man and the incredible struggle that he helped spearhead: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

And, since this is the Mid-Week Beat, it’s also important to remember what a key role music played for those involved in the struggle. When one thinks of the music of the civil rights era, we largely think of so-called “freedom songs”: African-American gospel hymns like “Go Down Moses” or “We Shall Not Be Moved,” that had deep roots in the African-American churches and socially concious folk songs sung by artists like Julius Lester, Odetta and Pete Seeger. The freedom songs were collaborative in nature and they served as a tool to bring people together in the struggle and to gain strength from one another.

Many younger African Americans involved in the movement, however, sought to separate themselves from the old church tradition and wanted music that was more revolutionary in spirit. Music that could be cranked at parties and was more receptive than participatory. Therefore, it was the soul and r&b that was being produced in Detroit by Motown or in Memphis by Stax, that spoke to this, more militant, generation.
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Atlanta! Hear Harry Belafonte Speak This Wednesday.

You’re in luck Atlanta! This Wednesday, American icon Harry Belafonte will be appearing at the Carter Center to discuss his incredible life. Want a little preview? Here you go.

Harry was born in Harlem in 1927 and from the ages of 5 until 13 he lived in Jamaica with his grandmother. He attended high school in New York City and then served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, while working as a janitor’s assistant, a tenant gave him two tickets to the theater as a tip. He not only fell in love with the theater because of this fateful encounter, he also met Sidney Poitier. The two became fast friends and due to their financial hardships, would often purchase single seats to local plays, trading places in between acts and filling each other in on the progression of the story line.

At the tail end of the 40s he studied under famed German director Erwin Piscator alongside the likes of Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis and his old buddy Sidney Poitier. During this time, he performed with the American Negro Theatre and received a Tony award for his role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”
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