When it comes to politically themed soul music, many jump to make reference to either “A Change Is Gonna Come” or the extensive performative politics of Nina Simone. One could say that’s a pretty cursory and surface look at how the politics during a period of social change showed up in a variety of ways in Soul Music.
As we approach the 30th Celebration of the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and his massive contributions to the uplift of not just African Americans, but to all marginalized people in the United States, I thought I’d dig a little deeper than the typical retreads of “Mississippi Goddam” and gleamed a bit more of the variety of emotions that ran through popular soul music from the early 1960’s through the early 1970’s, right when we started to witness a newfound conservatism that has brought 45 years of disruption of Unions, Wage Stagnation and income inequity that is far reaching.
By bringing in different songs telling different narratives, we get glimpses of The Great Migration, hints of Respectability Politics that allowed some African Americans to rise on the economic ladder quicker than others through neat dress, education and professional attitudes not geared to offend whites. We find grief over the death of loved ones, isolation, determination, yet calls for love and joy among all the strife.
The experiences were more nuanced than Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud. The messages were as diverse as the performers themselves and their own backgrounds. Some true rags to riches stories, some college, middle class and educated, some performers descended from Show Biz Royalty and the heady mix in between. Dedicated to a bit of auditory education, here’s nearly 80 minutes of jams for you to get your progressive, even radical on.
Here’s hoping, as we roll further into 2016, that you take the time to contemplate our collective pasts as we make decisions for our collective futures, regardless of the boundaries you may think contain your experience. We’re all interconnected in the infinite vastness of our little 3rd rock from the Sun, so let’s make the best of it.
#BlackLivesMatter and Happy Birthday Dr. King.
1) The Wright Specials – Pilgrim of Sorrow (1962)
2) Patti Austin – A Most Unusual Boy (1965)
3) Verdelle Smith – A Piece of The Sky (1966)
4) The Drifters – Rat Race (1963)
5) Oscar Brown Jr. – Brother, Where Are You? (1965)
6) Aretha Franklin – Take A Look (1964)
7) Dinah Washington – A Stranger On Earth (1963)
8) June Adams – The Human Race (1965)
9) The Impressions – Meeting Over Yonder (1965)
10) The Blossoms – Things Are Changing (1965)
11) Stevie Wonder – A Place In The Sun (1966)
12) Brenda Holloway – Play It Cool, Stay In School (1966)
13) The Dells – Does Anyone Know I’m Here? (1968)
14) The Staple Singers – For What It’s Worth (1967)
15) The Sweet Inspirations – Why Am I Treated So Bad?(1967)
16) The Four Tops – In These Changing Times(1971)
17) Smokey Robinson And The Miracles – Abraham, Martin & John (1969)
18) The Meditation Singers – Stand Up And Be Counted (1968)
19) Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Shoe Leather Expressway (1969)
20) Albertina Walker and The Caravans – Put A Little Love In Your Heart (1970)
21) Marlena Shaw – Woman Of The Ghetto (1969)
22) Judy Clay with Booker T & The MG’s – Children Don’t Get Weary (1969)
23) The Spinners – Message From A Black Man (1970)
24) The Stylistics – People Make The World Go ‘Round (1971)
25) Jackie Ross – Doctor Slaps Man Is Born (1971)
26) Della Reese – Simple Song Of Freedom (1970)