The history of Black struggle is intricately tied to the history of Black music. From slave songs to Civil Rights hymns, hip-hop to jazz, blues to punk, Black musical expression is an arena of political engagement. This is Progressive Pupil’s list of 20 influential Black protest songs. Be sure to let us know what your favorites are in the comments!
1. Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!
The simplicity of the hook embodies the entire revolutionary spirit of Bob Marley. This live performance in Germany of his iconic call to arms also highlights Marley’s master showmanship.
2. We Shall Overcome by Mahalia Jackson
Simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, the incomparable Mahalia Jackson sings this Civil Rights Era standard.
Lest we forget, Brown reminds us to be proud of our heritage.
With a few changes to Sam Cooke’s original, this Fugees update still manages to honor the spirit of the original song.
5. Lift Every Voice and Sing by Ray Charles
Only Ray Charles could make you wanna dance to the Negro National Anthem.
6. N’Kosi Sikeleli Africa (The South African National Anthem) by Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon
Paul Simon joins legendary South African songstress Miriam Makeba on stage to sing this tribute to the continent. God Bless Africa!
7. Zimbabwe by Bob Marley
“We gon’ fight!” Marley’s ode to the revolutionary struggle of the Zimbabwean people reflected a broader desire for true African independence.
8. Zombie by Fela Kuti
Beware the (political) zombies! They’re coming to eat your soul. Tell ‘em Fela.
9. Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone
You can see the frustration furrowing Ms. Simone’s brow in this live version of her Civil Rights Era tune. Goddamn, indeed.
10. I’m an African by Dead Prez
“Blacker than black” Dead Prez reminds us our roots.
11. Think by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin made movie history in this scene from the first Blues Brothers and sends a reminder to everyone to think about how they treat others.
12. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
13. Fuk Da Police by NWA
Coming Straight outta Compton NWA pulls no punches in this response to police brutality.
14. Banned in DC by Bad Brains
15. Don’t Believe the Hype by Public Enemy
Public Enemy No. 1 setting ‘em straight in the MTV Studios. Flav knows what time it is!
16. N*ggas in Poorest by Yasiin Bey
Bey–formerly Mos Def–reworked Jay-Z and Kanye West’s N*ggas in Paris to comment on the real struggles of the 99% becoming an internet sensation and instant classic.
17. Living for the City by Stevie Wonder
Performed live in 1974, Stevie sings a tale about Black migration to U.S. cities.
18. Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye
The third single off of his landmark album “What’s Going On,” Marvin tells of urban hardship. A close runner up is the title track, What’s Going On.
20. Busted by Ray Charles
Ray laments the lose-lose cycle of capitalist exploitation. Even though it seems like we’re all busted, it’s hard not to find some optimism in the upbeat tempo of Ray’s rendition.
by Brittany Duck