ASCAP Celebrates Black History Month | Week 3: The Music of Black Movements

February 15, 2021

Music has accompanied nearly every major social, cultural, religious and political movement spearheaded by the Black community in America. This week, we're looking at Black ASCAP icons that have been there to soundtrack the most important movements of the last century.
Fats Waller

The Harlem Renaissance

The 1920s Harlem Renaissance was a turning point in Black culture. Eschewing the one-dimensional, stereotypical depictions of Black life in art, a sophisticated new generation of Black artists portrayed the complexity of Black identity in music, theatre, literature and visual arts. The movement introduced ASCAP members like leading poet Langston Hughes and brought much-deserved acclaim to jazz greats Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller.

 
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March on Washington, MLK

The March on Washington

The 1963 March on Washington was co-led by ASCAP member Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Organized as a rally for jobs and freedom for Black Americans, this historic march was a key event of the Civil Rights Movement. ASCAP legends and activists Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, among others, spoke at the March on Washington, using their platforms to advocate for racial justice for Blacks.

 
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Nina Simone
Nina Simone

The Murder of Emmett Till

The 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, wrongfully accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store, was considered a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement. Bringing nationwide attention to racial violence and injustice, Till’s story was a driving force for organized activism and civil disobedience in the ‘50s and beyond.  ASCAP protest music of the era includes “Mississippi Goddam'' by the brilliant singer-songwriter and activist Nina Simone – a song that expresses rage at the murders of Till, Medgar Evers and other racially-provoked acts of violence, and laments the disturbing state of the nation.


 
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March from Selma to Montgomery

The March from Selma to Montgomery

The 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches were pivotal protests during of Civil Rights Movement, focused on securing basic voting rights for Black Americans. Demonstrators like ASCAP member Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., organizer Amelia Boynton and future statesman John Lewis set out to the Alabama capitol building peacefully, but were met with violent State Troopers. The courage of these activists contributed to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

On March 24, 1965, the hallowed folk singer Odetta – a musical freedom fighter lauded by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks – performed her famous "Freedom Trilogy" at the Stars for Freedom Rally, a concert organized to support the marchers. She shared the stage with fellow ASCAP members Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, Leonard Bernstein, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and more.

 
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Bob Marley

Rastafarianism

Originating in 1930s Jamaica, the Rastafari movement launched an Afro-centric social and spiritual ideology, centered around the redemption of Black men and women and the return of the Black diaspora. Early followers revered Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as an embodiment of Jah (God). Rastas believe in the healing properties of music, and music has long been critical to the religion’s growth. ASCAP members like reggae icon Bob Marley and hardcore punk legends Bad Brains both intertwined their Rasta beliefs with their massively influential music.

 
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Black Power

The Black Power Movement

The late ‘60s Black Power Movement emphasized Black pride, self-determination and the advancement of Black social/political institutions. Countering countless inadequacies fueled by racial discrimination, activists encouraged the establishment of Black-owned businesses and general self-sufficiency. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? (recently ranked Rolling Stone's #1 album of all time) and Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” are just two of the many ASCAP classics that soundtracked the Black Power Movement and continue to resonate today. 

 
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Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Extending the legacies of the Civil Rights & Black Power Movements, Black Lives Matter began in 2013 as a hashtag, and developed into a network of activists intent on combating the systemic racism, social injustice and (especially) police brutality imposed on Black Americans. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in 2020, influential ASCAP members Beyoncé, Lil Baby and Alicia Keys were just a few of the many artists who released powerful music underscoring the message of the now global #BlackLivesMatter movement.

 

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