Protest Songs I – Introduction
According to Merriam Webster, a protest is a complaint, objection, or display of unwillingness usually to an idea or a course of action. This display of disapproval comes in many forms. We all have seen marches, rallies, signs, and peaceful resistance. However, another important type of protest is in the lyrics of songs. Protest songs are nearly in every genre of music ranging from Country music’s “We shall be Free’ by Garth Brooks to hip-hop’s “This is America” by Childish Gambino. We even see a protest in the songs sung by children, such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
In America, we have sung of protest since the Revolutionary War. We have seen songs of liberation, abolition, slavery to today’s hot topics such as civil liberties, civil rights, women’s rights, economics, politics, and war.
Music has always been able to unify and galvanize us. When dealing with social and political issues, they bring attention to a problem often overlooked. A song can become a call-to-action like Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas” which raised millions for the people affected by the Ethiopian famine. Even (right or wrong) a song can be a call-to-arms like “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy.
The protest song may never be so relevant as it is in today’s global political and social crises. Thanks to the polarization of Trump’s America, the need to voice an opinion is becoming more relevant. Naturally, there are already songs about Trump, to be expected for a man with so little grey area in his policies. A Tribe Called Quest released “We the People” to express their frustration with America. Fiona Apple recorded “Tiny Hands” to parody the president during the women’s march in Washington, DC.
Here are ten great protest songs in the first part of a multipart post. There is no particular order of presentation. Regardless of your side on any issue, music combined with action can change the world. Well, that is my optimistic belief. We will begin with the Billie Holiday Classic “Strange Fruit.”
“Strange Fruit“, made famous by Billie Holiday, was originally a poem penned by Abel Meeropol using the pseudonym Lewis Allen. The poem is a protest of racism in America. The poem/song creates a vivid dark image of the strange fruit hanging from southern trees. The fruit is a metaphor for the lynching of black men, their bodies left to hang from a tree like rotting fruit. It paints an image that is hard to forget.Quote
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop