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Music for Social Change

Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” These artists represent a personal and political courage that has contributed to social justice. Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” (1939)“Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze / strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” This lament was a call to end racial inequality at a time when lynchings were commonplace. The song laid a path for future African American musicians to push for civil and human rights, including Nina Simone (“Mississippi Goddam,” 1964), Aretha Franklin (“Think,” 1968), Edwin Starr (“War,” 1969), Jimi Hendrix (the cacophonous antiwar version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” 1969),  and Public Enemy (“Fight the Power,” 1975). Pete Seeger, “Which Side Are You On?” (1967)In the 1960s singers like Bob Dylan (“Masters of War”) and John Lennon (“Give Peace a Chance”) called for social change. Folksinger Pete Seeger recorded “Which Side Are You On?” more than three decades after it was penned by Florence Reece, the wife of a Kentucky union organi …

About the Author

John Malkin

John Malkin is a musician, journalist, activist, and father who lives in Santa Cruz, California. His writing has been published in many magazines, including The Sun, ascent, Shambhala Sun, Sojourners, Namarupa, adbusters, Punk Planet and Ode. He’s published two books: Sounds of Freedom: Musicians on Social Change & Spirituality (Parallax Press, 2005) and The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America (Wipf & Stock, 2007). He’s currently completing a book about punk rock, spirituality, and anarchism.

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