“This is a showtune but the show hasn’t been written for it yet…” Far from from a showtune, this protest song was released as part of a collection of live recordings from Carnegie Hall made in 1964 and marked the beginning of Simone’s explicit incorporation of civil rights themes into her music (which had already contained political undertones). The song, a response to the killing of Medgar Evans (a civil rights activist) in Mississippi and the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama which left 4 schoolgirls dead, captures Simone’s frustrations with calls for the civil rights movement to ‘take it slow’.
But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
You don’t have to live next to me
Simone went on to perform the song the next year at the end of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, a five day, 54 mile march to demand that then Governor George Wallace provide protection to Selma’s black population – who were prevented from registering to vote through police intimidation. The day after Simone and others performed, the number of marchers grew to 25,000 – and a speech was given by Martin Luther King Jr. by the State Captiol building. Five months later, the Voting Rights act of 1965 would be passed. Aside from Simone’s status as a civil rights icon, her music is often cited by many musicians as a primary influence on their own work.
Wiretapping has come up in the news a lot lately, and I just wanted to try and calm everyone down. It’s no big deal!
Disabuse yourself of the notion that wiretaps will ever be used against you or anything you stand for. Nobody peaceful is going to have their communications monitored or their well-being threatened! Hell, it’s not like Martin Luther King, Jr. was wiretapped and harassed for… Oh, that’s right. He was!
Sexual indiscretions as blackmail fodder? Planted letters from supposed civil rights activists demanding King’s suicide? Saint Bobby Kennedy as the authorizing attorney general? What a story!
The Dead Kennedys’ “I am the Owl” was written only a few years after the Church Committee released its report outlining the FBI’s and CIA’s abuses of power. These included COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program under which King was harassed, as well as MKULTRA, which included dosing unknowing targets with LSD. While I’m certainly a proponent of responsible drug use, I wouldn’t want to be turned loose tripping on the freeway as happens to one of the song’s characters.
But hey, don’t worry! That sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen again!
Staple Sisters – When Will We Be Paid?
When will be paid?
That is the question being asked by the Staple Singers, arguably the premier R&B group of the Civil Rights Movement. What is so powerful, so moving about the Staple Singers (besides the fact that their elderly father, Roebuck “Pop” Staple, played bass) is that their music was more than simple protest songs. In tunes such as “Long March to DC” and “The Challenge,” the Family Staple created inspirational and supremely optimistic anthems that challenged the United States to transcend the worst of its history while simultaneously facing it.
It would have been easy for the Staple Singers to simply have been just another angry voice in the fist-pumping chorus of “Black Power” bands calling for the easy tropes of “revolution” and “revenge,” themes which typified the Blaxploitation period in funk and soul music. Instead, the Staple Singers were different. They invited the entire nation to join in that “Long March to DC” and they challenged all of us to move beyond the sins of the past towards a shared future.
However, their songs, especially this week’s special feature, “When Will Be Paid,” speak poignantly of the necessity of justice as a prerequisite to equity. It is a lesson that this country, this world is still struggling to learn.
Soylent Green is made out of people? Who gives a shit! Now you can…