How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement


A jazz concert at Jackie Robinson’s home

“In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided that integration—mandated three years earlier by Brown v. Board of Ed.—constituted such a state of emergency that he mobilized the National Guard to prevent nine black students from going to school. An outraged Charles Mingus responded with the lyrics to ‘Fables of Faubus,’ a composition that first appeared on his celebrated Mingus Ah Um in 1959. Those who know the album may be puzzled—there are no lyrics on that recording. Columbia Records, notes Michael Verity, found them ‘so incendiary that they refused to allow them to be recorded.’ Mingus re-recorded the song the following year for Candid Records, ‘lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.’ The irascible bassist and bandleader’s words ‘offer some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.’ Mingus’ experience with Columbia shows the line most jazz artists had to walk in the early years of the Civil Rights movement. Several of Mingus’ elders, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, refrained from making public statements about racial injustice, for which they were later harshly criticized. … Roach recorded two other albums with prominent Civil Rights themes, Speak Brother Speak in 1962 and Lift Every Voice and Sing in 1971. Jazz’s turn toward the movement was in full swing as the 60s dawned. ‘Nina Simone sang the incendiary ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ writes KCRW’s Tom Schnabel, ‘Coltrane performed a sad dirge, ‘Alabama’ to mourn the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing in 1963. Sonny Rollins recorded The Freedom Suite for Riverside Records as a declaration of musical and racial freedom.’ Every Civil Rights generation up to the present has had its songs of sorrow, anger, and celebration. Where gospel guided the early marchers, jazz musicians of the 1960s took it upon themselves to score the movement. Though he didn’t much like to talk about it in interviews, ‘Coltrane was deeply involved in the civil rights movement,” writes Blank on Blank, “and shared many of Malcolm X’s views on black consciousness and Pan-Africanism, which he incorporated into his music.’ Jazz clubs even became spaces for organizing. …”
Open Culture (Video)
The Great Migration
KCRW: Jazz Artists in the Civil Rights Era
NPR – Sonny Rollins: ‘Freedom Suite’ (Audio)
Open Culture: John Coltrane Talks About the Sacred Meaning of Music in the Human Experience: Listen to One of His Final Interviews (1966) (Video)
Why MLK Believed Jazz Was the Perfect Soundtrack for Civil Rights

Map of The Great Migration

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in Black Power, Civil Rights Mov., Free Speech Mov., Jazz, Malcolm X, MLKJr., Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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