Honoring Black History Month 2022 (Playlist)

In honor of celebrating #BlackHistoryToday check out a playlist of some of my favorite songs that get me moving and depict the movement for racial reckoning in our country. 

    • Ray Charles was the first Black artist to own his masters. When we talk about self-determination and self-reliance, it starts with ownership. He pioneered Soul music by integrating R&B, gospel, pop, and country. “Hard Times” illustrates how Ray Charles managed to overcome scarcity, racism, addiction, blindness, and “Hard Times” and elevate himself to icon through Black ownership. 

 

    • “Inner City Blues” is a song about the enforced poverty and brutality so many Black citizens endure. Marvin Gaye, greatly troubled by the Vietnam War, painted a picture of the hopelessness people living in the ghettos of urban America often felt and still feel. As he simply stated, it “makes me want to holler.”

 

    • This song, like many of Marley’s songs, was written to counter injustice and oppression. Marley wrote this song while touring Haiti. He was moved by the poverty and the lives of Haitians but was also influenced by his upbringing in Jamaica. The message of his lyrics promotes peace, love, justice, and harmony for all people – a message we can definitely get up and stand up for. 

 

    • This beautiful song by The Five Stairsteps is about hope, comfort, optimism, and healing. It has been sampled, covered by other artists, and featured in a number of amazing films. The lyrics tell us “things are gonna get easier” and to have faith that one day “we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.” That is a message we could all use right now.  

 

  • Beyonce, I Was Here
    • Beyonce earned the title of Most Grammy-Nominated Female Artist. That’s a huge accomplishment. In addition to being an amazing artist, she uplifts communities of color, fights food insecurity, advocates for social justice, and is living history in the making. In this song, she says, “I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here.” Indeed we will.

 

  • Common, A song for Assata
    • A Song for Assata lays out the mistreatment of a prominent Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army activist Assata Olugbala Shakur. Her case garnered a lot of publicity for how she was treated by law enforcement during her trial and incarceration. Assata Shakur is also Tupac Shakur’s step-aunt. Kean University once canceled Common’s commencement speech after a protest by New Jersey State Troopers, but he continues to stand by the song. 

 

    • “Fight the Power” was released in the summer of 1989 on Motown Records. It was recorded at the request of Spike Lee, who wanted it for his film Do the Right Thing, a film about racial tension in Brooklyn. He said, “I wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic.” All of those elements make it a powerful call to action. 

 

    • “Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed. No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead.” Those lyrics are just as relevant today as they were in 1975 when Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes first recorded it. Tobe Nwigwe is a modern-day truth-teller and in this cover, he really bridges the gap between the old and new generation of artists who are speaking truth to power through music. Unless we “wake up,” we will continue to repeat a painful history.

 

    • Rich in historical significance, this song is based on the religious hymn, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” ​​Civil rights activists added new verses and sang it for racial justice. Many of the freedom songs of the movement were spirituals or gospel songs from the Black church, sometimes with revised lyrics to reflect the current struggles. Today, this song is noted as one of the songs that served as the soundtrack to the Civil Rights era. 

 

    • From convict leasing, the chain gang, to modern-day private prison penal labor, it’s all just slavery by another name. Chain Gang by Sam Cooke revealed the lives of the incarcerated men, chained together doing physical labor in the sun, who felt voiceless and forgotten. The Chain Gang was responsible for improvements to public roadways and had a significant impact on rural areas, allowing planters to more quickly and more easily transport their crops to market.
    • Sam Cooke and his music were influential for so many reasons. His refusal to sing at a segregated concert led to one of the first real efforts in civil disobedience and helped usher in the new Civil Rights Movement. He was among the first Black performers to found both a record label and a publishing company. He also made history by becoming the first African-American who fought for and received his songwriting and publishing rights. 

 

    • Nina Simone sang songs of love, protest, and Black empowerment in a dramatic style, with a rough-edged voice. She was inspired to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement after an incident at her first concert at the age of 12. Her song Mississippi Goddam is a protest song that encapsulated the violence of 1963: the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, and the attacks by vicious dogs against the non-violent freedom fighters—throughout the South.

 

    • James Brown, and this song, in particular, had a huge impact on the world. For most of American history, Blackness has been denigrated and been a subject of contempt. By the summer of 1968, James Brown had seen enough. Racial tensions, rioting in the streets, and the murder of MLK. All of that inspired the singer to release the most politically charged but necessary song of his career “Say it Loud. I’m Black and I’m Proud.” 

 

    • We admire Alica Keys for so many reasons. Aside from being a 15-time Grammy award-winning singer, she is also a humanitarian, philanthropist, and activist. I truly love all of her music but for this playlist, I picked “Unbreakable.” The song mentions many iconic Black figures that, for better or worse, embody what it means to be resilient. “We gotta stay tuned cause there’s more to see through the technical difficulties.The real theme of this song is that the love that gets us through good and bad times remains unbreakable. 

 

    • I’ve never heard a song that makes a better case for reparations. It plainly lays out what Black people have contributed to the course of American culture and history but in many ways, is a universal story of struggles against oppression and exploitation in general. This song is meaningful in this wider context, of humanity’s propensity to enslave and exploit, and about the equal propensity to determine one’s own destiny and independence.

 

    • I wanted to honor Mary Wilson, one of the founding members of The Supremes. She died recently in 2021 at the age of 76. The Supremes, one of the most successful Motown groups, was also one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. The Supremes, like most of the music released on Motown, was the soundtrack to the Civil Rights era and despite the racism they faced, they brought joy to people. From segregation to integration, black kids and white kids were dancing together to the same music and they created a bond that echoed throughout the world.

 

    • When Chaka Khan first heard the song (Written by Ashford and Simpson and later covered by Whitney Houston) she thought it was arrogant and she felt embarrassed to be singing it: “How dare I say ‘I’m every woman, it’s all in me.” She later grew into it and it became one of the world’s greatest songs. She feels completely comfortable singing it now. As women, we often doubt our power. Chaka Khan reminded me that sometimes we have to step out on faith and the confidence will come later. Women are a force to be reckoned with even when we don’t feel it. This song is all about female empowerment and the self-affirming greatness of being a woman at any stage of that realization

    • This song, based on Berry’s life, is one of the most iconic songs in rock and roll. It tells the tale of a boy with humble beginnings and a talent for playing the guitar. While many artists are rock pioneers, Chuck Berry is universally considered the true king and/or father of Rock and Roll because he was the first to put together the country guitar licks, rhythm and blues beat, and lyrics that spoke to a young generation. Berry laid the musical groundwork for how rock and roll would take shape. NASA sent a copy of this song on the Voyager space probe as part of a package that was meant to represent the best in American culture. Someday, aliens could find it and discover Chuck Berry.

 

  • Ella Fitzgerald, Dream a Little Dream of Me             
    • Ella Fitzgerald, the first Black woman to win a Grammy, was considered the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy Awards and sold over 40 million albums. She was notable for her scat singing, a style of vocal improvisation where a rapid-fire succession of syllables, often imitating the melodic line of a horn instrument, were sung to unpredictable effect. By the end of her life, she’d become an international legend with a career that spanned six decades.

 

    • Lena Horne was a singer, actress, and Civil Rights Activist. Eventually becoming the highest-paid Black entertainer at the time, she demanded that she not be relegated to roles where she would play a domestic worker, the industry standard for Black performers at the time. By the end of the 1940s, Horne had sued a variety of restaurants and theaters for discrimination. When McCarthyism was sweeping through Hollywood, Horne found herself blacklisted. Nonetheless, she was able to land two lead roles in movies with a Black cast, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Horne’s rendition of the song for Weather would become her signature tune, one she would perform countless times over the span of her career. 

 

    • What would a Black History playlist be without the official Black National Anthem!? In 1919, the NAACP dubbed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the “Negro national anthem.” Voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for Black people, it is a song about freedom, suffering, and joy. 

 

    • Withers, who died recently in 2020, was born in the segregated coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. His maternal grandfather, Grackus Monroe Galloway, had been born into slavery. As a boy, he would attend church with his grandmother, who was the rock, advice giver, and storyteller of the family. Keeping the tradition of elder Black women, she passed down their cultural narrative and food traditions to the younger generations. Bill’s own personal recollections of his grandmother in this song speak to the wider human audience, i.e. people who appreciate their grandmothers. Withers wrote some of the biggest hits of the 1970s, including “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me.” But HIS favorite song—and his best—was the one he wrote about his grandma.

 

  • Gil Scott – Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 
    • The historical folks who have led the way in fighting injustice, the people fighting now, and the folks who will pick up the fight and lead us into a just and equitable future all know that change can only come with active participation. People will not be able to plug in their television (or any device) and watch passively from the comfort of their recliners. The shift in the hearts and minds of the people will not be captured on film. A native Oakland poet named Ise Lyfe recently said, “The Revolution will not be hashtagged, posted, thought-pieced, social justice summited, muraled, panel discussed, pronouned, or grant awarded.” The seed of that statement was planted by Gil Scott-Heron in this profound piece.