This installment of Good Trouble features a few books about the strong connections between music and activism, as well as individual artists who have made an impact.
Discover some of Nina Simone’s music
Born Eunice Kathlyn Wayman, the artist who would become known as Nina Simone was a musical prodigy whose dreams were smashed against the walls of racism and prejudice. As her career finally began to flourish, not in the music halls where her classical piano training would have taken her otherwise, but in bars and clubs, the rising tide of the civil rights movement also began to grow. While she was initially hesitant to speak out, due to her own experiences with racism, she eventually became a raging force, turning her music into powerful statements, with songs such as “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” becoming a civil rights anthem.
Broken into eight areas of activism, Rise Up and Sing! introduces the reader to not only why those topics are important, but to the music, musicians and movements that have, and are, connected to those areas. From examples in environmentalism, such as the beginnings of Greenpeace at a concert featuring Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs in 1970, to examples related to accessibility, acceptance and disability rights, such as the work of Stevie Wonder to support the blind and visually impaired or Lizzo fighting against anti-fat bias and body shaming; as well as examples in the other areas of indigenous rights, civil rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, gender equality, peace/anti-war protest, and human rights, this book is packed with information about not only the movement but artists, both historical and contemporary, making an impact.
As a music lover, I also appreciate the playlists of tracks provided for each of the eight areas of activism, and I compiled those songs available on Spotify into one playlist here. Note: these songs may contain explicit lyrics.
Born on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, Mahani Teave grew up to become a renowned concert pianist. Using her music and platform, she brought attention to the pollution plaguing Rapa Nui and the impacts of tourism on its cultural heritage. Through her work she was able to build a music school on Rapa Nui from recycled materials and is working towards a more sustainable future for the island and the world. A full documentary, Song of Rapa Nui, featuring the story of Mahani Teave, her music and her work to improve her home, can be found on YouTube. In addition, here’s a short concert Teave did for NPR where she also gives a brief tour of the school she helped to build.
Discover some of Woody Guthrie’s music
While widely known for his song “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie wrote thousands of songs, calling attention to the plights of the poor, laborers and workers, and migrants during the Depression and the Dust Bowl eras. He sang about their desperation, their working conditions, the hardship of their lives, but also their hopes and dreams – the dreams of Americans. He sang about working together, protesting, unionizing for better pay and conditions. And while many know, and even sing “This Land is Your Land” in schools, Christensen’s book ends by pointing out that the song is far longer than what is regularly sung, pointing out more than just the ideal of a country for everyone, but the hardships and trials for that ideal to come true, elements that were integral to Guthrie’s work and message.
- How it Feels to Be Free (TV-14), documentary on Kanopy, which “takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers—Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier— changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics.”
- Musician Activists (NR), video documentary on Kanopy featuring stories of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bono, and others
- American Music of Politics and Protest (NR), episode 8 of America’s Musical Heritage documentary series on Kanopy which examines long-standing connections between politics, protest and music in America
Why “Good Trouble”?
Among many important things, civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis was famous for using the term “good trouble” when speaking on fighting against injustice in this country. This blog series will highlight books in our collection that might inspire you towards activism or provide you some ways to cause some “good trouble” fighting against societal injustices.
“Speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
“What can you do to get into good trouble? There is a light inside of you that will turn on when you get into good trouble. You will feel emboldened and freed. You will realize that unjust laws cannot stop you. These laws cannot stop the truth that is in your heart and soul.”
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
– John Lewis