20 Influential Black Protest Songs

Black Fist

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.

3. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown

Lest we forget, Brown reminds us to be proud of our heritage.

4. A Change is Gonna Come by The Fugees

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

Holiday’s haunting rendition of Abel Meeropol’s song, memorializes the dark legacies of racial violence in the US, reminding us of the NAACP flag announcing “A man was lynched yesterday.”

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

Pioneers in punk music, Bad Brains are still going strong. This 1982 anthem shows why they’re legends in the AfroPunk movement.

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.

19. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round by Sweet Honey in The Rock

The harmonies and intonations in Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round are a reminder of the lasting influence of call and response work songs in the Black protest tradition.

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

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  1. I love this list! I also wanted to share my Spotify Playlist “This is what rEVOLution Sounds Like” http://open.spotify.com/user/122957620/playlist/6adoCHhD0uwd7vMPM2K970 . I have to add many of the tracks you’ve featured.


  2. Reblogged this on Mashariki.


  3. glen

     /  December 19, 2016

    kids that didn’t want to go to school and learn oops automatic leaders


  1. VIDEO + AUDIO: 20 Influential Black Protest Songs | Neo-Griot

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