Many songs of protest, struggle, hope for justice and a better way of living that were written in the 1960s and ‘70s seem just as relevant today as they were in the era that gave them birth. Let’s look back at some timeless classics from socially conscious musicians who were never afraid to speak their minds.
Sam Cooke — “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Sam Cooke’s heartfelt rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” remains an anthem of the Civil Rights era. Released in 1964 (on the b-side of “Shake”), his memorable composition was inspired by Cooke and company being turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana. In 2007, the song was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.
Bobby Hutcherson — “Black Heroes”
Inspired by the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson made an historic recording in 1969 for Blue Note records titled “Now!” Bobby’s collaboration with saxophonist Harold Land and composer/vocalist Gene McDaniels remains a timeless piece of profound social commentary. Land’s “Black Heroes” salutes Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Bobby Kennedy, and calls for “Freedom Now!”
Doug Carn — “Time Is Running Out”
In the early ‘70s, Doug and Jean Carn released three Afro-centric records for the short-lived but potent Black Jazz label. “Time Is Running Out” comes from the 1973 date “Revelation,” on which Jean Carn’s angelic multi octave voice steals the show. Her gritty interpretation of this song includes the lyrics, “400 years, that’s what it’s all about!”
Archie Shepp — “Blues for Brother George Jackson”
Archie Shepp’s avant-garde sensibilities meet a soulful groove on the 1972 Impulse album “Attica Blues.” Shepp’s “Blues For Brother George Jackson” pays homage to the African-American author who published “Soledad Brother,” a Marxist manifesto addressed to the Black American audience. Jackson was killed during an attempted prison break in 1971. Shepp’s plaintive cry on tenor saxophone contrasts nicely with the propulsive groove of this swinging arrangement for a large ensemble.
Joe Cuba — “Do You Feel It?”
In 1972, salsa master Joe Cuba released an album called “Bustin’ Out.” Although Donny Hathaway had a massive hit with “The Ghetto” in 1969, no song better exemplifies the challenges and frustrations, but also the pride and joy, of ghetto life in New York City’s Spanish Harlem than “Do You Feel It?”
Leon Thomas — “The Creator Has A Master Plan”
In 1969, Leon Thomas released “The Creator Has A Master Plan” on an album called “Spirits Known and Unknown.” Thomas’ patented yodeling and scatting take a back seat here to his more subdued spiritual approach, expressing hope for peace and love for all mankind on this classic recording.
Buckshot LeFonque — “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”
In 1994, Branford Marsalis enlisted Maya Angelou to recite “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for an album by his musical group Buckshot LeFonque. Marsalis’ hybrid of jazz and hip hop provided a stunning platform for Angelou’s remembrance of her 1969 autobiography about overcoming racism and trauma.
Cannonball Adderley — “Walk Tall”
Cannonball Adderley recorded his “Country Preacher” album live at a Southern Christian Leadership “Operation Breadbasket” church meeting in Chicago. This 1969 album featured Joe Zawinul’s infectious, soulful “Walk Tall,” a message of Black empowerment written by a white musician who grew up in Austria. Such is the power and universality of jazz music!
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