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Musical Space

Musical Space: American Revolutionaries


Today, the 4th of July, has me thinking about musical revolutions. Styles rise up from social change, and the United States has been an incubator for so many types of music because of our history of political upheaval; the revolutionary spirit behind the Declaration of Independence has continuously shaped our musical space.

You can hear it in our own national anthem: words of defiance set to an English drinking song. What better way to invoke the enlightenment-era ideal of liberty than to appropriate a melody of one’s oppressors?

Music has been there to demand answers to subsequent social injustices, and in the continuing revolutionary wars of young culture versus old, disadvantaged versus privileged, and minority versus majority there has been no shortage of styles. The Blues and Jazz gave voice to marginalized blacks in the 1920s. Rock and soul rose up to protest the Vietnam War draft. Hardcore punk and hip-hop were there to serve disaffected youth in the Reagan ‘80s. Lead Belly and Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Isaac Hayes, Public Enemy and Black Flag all found an audience because they defied the status quo.

If you want to know what the next big thing in music will be, just look at our underserved populations and wait for the next declaration of independence.



(something indicative of the enlightenment – can I find something American? Maybe Benjamin Franklin)

Music of revolution

Jimi Hendrix “Star Spangled Banner” (Live at Woodstock 1969)
The last act of the Woodstock festival

Lead Belly, “The Bourgeois Blues,” Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection (1939)
Written in protest of the racism and Jim Crow laws Leadbelly witnessed when he traveled to Washington D.C. “Lord, in a bourgeois town
Uhm, bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Nat Adderley, “Work Song,” Cannonball Adderley, Them Dirty Blues (1960)
Appropriating the form of a slave field holler; listen to the “call and response” form at the beginning.

James Brown, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing,” (1969)
(...Open up the door, I’ll get it myself)

Reagan Youth, “Reagan Youth,” Youth Anthems for the New Order (1984)
Here Reagan Youth compare 1980’s Young Republicans to Nazis.

Public Enemy, “Fight the Power,” (1989)