An evolving civil rights soundtrack, today's protest music follows a storied tradition | St. Louis Public Radio

An evolving civil rights soundtrack, today's protest music follows a storied tradition

Jul 12, 2017

Music played an important role in the civil rights movement that helped transform the nation. Songs such as Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples inspired black people to push for change — and moved the hearts of others.

For Andrew Gibson, founder of the Freedom Arts and Education Center in St. Louis, paying attention of the songs of the civil rights era and beyond can help people understand the new wave of activism sweeping the country. With that in Mind, he’s organized “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement,” to support the Missouri History Museum’s current exhibition “#1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis.”

Gibson says the show will offer people a chance to hear how music connects to social justice.

“Everybody will claim to love these songs, they’ll claim to love ‘What’s Going On.’ They’ll claim to love 'A Change is Going to Come,' even more in your face songs like ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy. It’s like OK, but how about the message behind it? It’s kind of an easy way into talking to people about some of these tougher issues.”

The show will feature vocalists Alexis Coleman, Michelle Higgins, Chauncey Sims,  Karl "Hearskra-z" Livingston, Venneikia Williams, Ashley Slaughter, Jonathan Tatem, Candäcé Wilbert and Mathias James. They perform to music played by Timothy McGimpsey, Isaiah Cox, Donald Williams, Miles Dela Cruz, Shelby Carter, Matt McKeever and Matt Banks.

Performers will play a selection of songs by artists ranging from Sam Cooke to Kendrick Lamar. The performances will be interspersed with personal and historical context provided by host Darian Wigfall, who will speak on the composers' influences.

Gibson says the performance is an attempt to engage people beyond casual listening habits.

“Marvin Gaye did a lot more than ‘Let’s Get it On,’ you know. It’s a lot more than just love songs.” Gibson said. “I hope that [attendees] can listen to some of these older songs by artists like Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples and see that these weren’t just supposed to be sweet docile gospel tunes. These were songs of struggle.”

The Freedom Arts and Education Center, which provides arts-focused programs to schools and public institutions. Gibson adapted the concert from one of the organization’s youth programs, based on listening and discussion sessions aimed at fostering critical engagement with social justice music.

If you go:

What: “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement”

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold