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Kid Music Series: Meaningful Music for African-American Studies

Updated on January 12, 2016
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This Month and Every Month

Want to supplement your class with meaningful songs for Black History Month?

Want background music that will liven up your family discussions at the dinner table?


The American experience is constantly evolving. We look at our lives, argue about our differences and second guess our choices. We hope, we love and we persevere.The African-American experience is all this with the added burden of a past that included enslavement and continues with an ongoing journey towards equality and opportunity. We all know the main landmarks; civil war, segregation, jim crow, and the civil rights movement. We know big names like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.These famous people are a great starting point when learning about Black History.

But we need to go further. We need to talk and learn about the average person and their lives- in the past as well as today. I was so glad when President Obama acknowledged that, before he was well known, he heard countless car doors being locked when he walked by. White women would hold their purses a little tighter in the elevator. When you really think about it, it's a constant reminder to you that you are different, that you can't be trusted. Imagine psychologically what this does to you and how you have to become very very strong to not let it pull you down.To me, celebrating Black History Month means reaching out and starting the conversation, not just during February but all through the year.

African-American musicians from 1900 to the present day (partial list).

collage, no infringement of copyright is intended
collage, no infringement of copyright is intended | Source

Some Top African-American Musicians

Marian Anderson Louis Armstrong Nat King Cole Duke Ellington Ella Fitzgerald Aretha Franklin Lena Horne Michael Jackson Ella Jenkins Robert Johnson Bessie Jones Scott Joplin Aleisha Keyes B.B. King Wynton Marsalis Jelly Roll Morton Bessie SmithThe Staple Singers Stevie Wonder

The Music:

I've chosen five tunes; mostly civil rights protest songs that were popular to sing during the times of Martin Luther King, Jr. They give you the feeling of this struggle along with the joy of banding together as people to overcome injustice. As an elementary general music teacher I introduced these songs to children from mid January till the end of February. In addition, I introduced other artists close to my heart like Ella Fitzgerald and Marian Anderson.

Songs of Protest and Strength

These are my recommended recordings:

Song - Artist

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round -The Freedom Singers

This group's goal was to promote the civil rights movement through song in the early 1960s. They were originally from Georgia.

If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus - The Brown Chapel Congregation

The Brown Chapel congregation was very involved in the voting rights movement. Here they sing a song that was sung during Rosa Park's incarceration.

Down By The Riverside - The Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama started in the 1940s and they are still going strong! With some personnel changes through the years, they keep performing and singing inspirational music.

Freedom Suite [a.k.a. Civil Rights Medley] - Sweet Honey on the Rock

Oh Freedom, Come and Go with Me to That Land, I'm On My Way to Freedom Land, Glory Glory Hallel (feat. Sweet Honey in the Rock) Freedom Suite [a.k.a. Civil Rights Medley]: Oh Freedom, Come and Go with Me to That Land, I'm On My Way to Freedom Land, Glory Glory Hallel (feat. Sweet Honey in the Rock) Sweet Honey in the Rock is a wonderful a cappella group comprised of six African-American women. It was founded in 1973 and with some personnel changes is still touring and recording. They've made several children's albums.

Follow the Drinking Gourd - John Davis Rucker & Rhonda H. Rucker

Sparky and Rhonda Rucker do a beautiful version of this song about following the north star to freedom.

Songs of Protest and Strength

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round
Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round

This group's goal was to promote the civil rights movement through song in the early 1960s. They were originally from Georgia.


Books for Learning

My Recommended Books:

What a Wonderful World - George David Weiss, Bob Thiele and Ashley Bryan

A delightful picture book based on the Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World.

A Tisket, A Tasket - Ella Fitzgerald and Ora Eitan

I used this in class every year. We played the game, sung the song and listened to Ella Fitzgerald sing while reading the book.

Follow the Drinking Gourd - Jeanette Winter

Based upon the song, this book is a very good introduction to how some families escaped slavery.

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson - Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick

This book is beautifully illustrated and tells Marian's story from a girl singing in a Philadelphia church to singing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with an audience of thousands.

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? - Bonnie Bader and Nancy Harrison

Introduction to MLK for children. Good reviews.

Performances to Enjoy

There are so many fabulous performances of these songs. Here are a few.

Back of the Bus

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around

Follow the Drinking Guard

Come and Go With Me to That Land

Down By the Riverside

Your thoughts are most welcome.

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    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      @lesliesinclair: How true! :)

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      It seems like the students might like to hear these songs also at other times to maintain their awareness of the normality of enjoying African American culture every day.