Odetta Holmes performing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963 (National Archives and Records Administration/Rowland Scherman)
From 1940 to 1970, gospel, jazz, blues, and soul music underscored the Civil Rights Movement. Artists, activists, and radio DJs came together to write, perform, and promote music that reflected—and shaped—the events of the time and the ongoing fight for freedom. Music became a political weapon and unifying force, delivering powerful messages of hope to the Black community and beyond.
The artists who lent their voices and talents to the movement are legendary: Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus among others. Their music was showcased by radio personalities like Hal Jackson and Frankie Crocker of WBLS New York, Tall Paul White of Birmingham’s WENN, Magnificent Montague of KGFJ Los Angeles, and Chicago’s Al Benson at WVON. And stations including WERD and WAOK in Atlanta and WDIA in Memphis played key roles in expanding the audience for this national musical call to action.
Join civil rights and Black music historian Leon Burnette as he explores how the music that grew out of a seminal era became an indelible part of America’s social and cultural heritage.
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