Last Thursday, the Belden Noble Library in Essex, hosted a presentation in words and song by Mary-Nell Bockman and The Wannabes entitled, Singing for Change: “Protest” Music in American History.
If you missed this event at Whallonsburg Grange Hall last summer, then you had another chance to learn about the important role music has played in our country’s history. Though if you missed it again, then get a recap here!
An Evening of Song
More than 20 people crowded into the little library to listen to and sing along with Mary-Nell Bockman and The Wannabees. Library Director Tom Mangano introduced the special guests, and Bockman passionately began speaking about a subject that is close to her heart.
Her program is both powerful and personal. One of the first examples she gives us is that of a sanitation worker strike in Atlanta in 1970 with the song, “Which Side Are You On” playing underneath. She tells us she was 11 years old when she went to that protest with her mom. (Kathleen Recchia in “Singing for Change on a Winter Evening in Essex, NY” on LakePlacid.com)
Using videos, slides, audio recordings and live music, this program highlighted the songs and cultural impact of music that were central to many American social and political movements. Bockman went through the American history and growth of what is known as “protest music,” giving examples for different eras.
Protest songs are linked to sweeping social movement such as the abolition of slavery, the rise of organized labor, the rural Grange movement, the civil rights struggle, opposition to the Vietnam War, and other specific topical events that have stirred the masses. […]
Mary-Nell takes us back to John Adams’ diaries and “The Liberty Song”–its roots and offshoots. We learn about the rise of group singing in the 1830s, the anti-slavery songs, and about the birth of songsters and how soldiers carried them in their pockets and spread the songs far and wide… (Kathleen Recchia in “Singing for Change on a Winter Evening in Essex, NY” on LakePlacid.com)
Power in Many Voices
Music has long been a tool that aides in remembrance. Rhythm and repetition (the chorus) of a song is catchy, and it passes along from person to person as it is played/sung. Protest music gains strength as more voices are added to the song.
Mary-Nell explains that we can sing things that we would not be comfortable saying […]. She takes us up through all of the 1900s: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War—we get to sing “Blowin’ In the Wind” along with the Wannabees. Mary-Nell goes on to explain that these songs are meant to be sung by lots of people. They take on a whole different persona when performed by a single person on a stage. Their power is in the number of voices raised in song. (Kathleen Recchia in “Singing for Change on a Winter Evening in Essex, NY” on LakePlacid.com)
A packet of song lyrics were passed out so that the audience could sing along, and add their own voices to these protest songs:
- “Get Off the Track” (Old Dan Tucker)
- “John Brown’s Body”
- “Battle Hymn of the Republic “
- “Suffrage Anthem”
- “The Preacher and the Slave” (Joe Hill)
- “Draglines” (CAPO 2)
- “Blowin’ in the Wind”