Introducing art activism and music activism to kids can be as simple as playing some fun songs that will definitely make them want to dance!
While riding in the car one day, the “Birthday Song” by Gracie’s Corner came on. As we were listening to it, G (6) started singing the Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday” song version. It was at this moment that 1) MY HEART SMILED because my baby was singing Motown music, and 2) I felt it was a good way to naturally tell him about the origin and purpose of this song. Yes, it is the go-to, must sing song that we belt out when celebrating our loved ones on their birthdays. However, it is also ART AS ACTIVISM.
What is “Art Activism?”
I had to first explain how music is art, because G thought only drawings and paintings could be art. After establishing that baseline of knowledge, I explained what activism is and why it is important. I tried to do so in a succinct and simple way – activism is the things we do and actions we take to make the world a better place for everyone. In art activism, specifically in music, people use their musical talents to help make change and to try to make the world a better place.
Beyond Art Activism: History in Music
Since art is a “sign of the times,” these songs are also relevant in history lessons. They can be connected to the events that were happening at the times they were released as new songs. While teaching how music can be an act of protest, you can teach the historical relevance, as well.
Here are 5 inspiring (and FUN) songs to share “Art As Activism” with your young learners:
1. “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder
(1981) – Stevie used his talents as a very popular musical artist to help make Martin Luther King Day a nationally recognized federal holiday (made a holiday in 1983, first celebrated in 1986).
2. “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
(1960) – Ray refused to perform a show in Georgia under the segregation laws that wouldn’t allow Black audience members and white audience members to enjoy the performance in the same areas (1961). At the time, racism was built into the laws, and it didn’t immediately change. His recording of Georgia On My Mind became even more popular after his decision to not perform for segregated audiences. He was sued and fined $700 for refusing to play. The state of Georgia formally apologized to him in 1979.
3. “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley and The Wailers
(1973) While this song is about religious rightd, it carries a different meaning for a lot of listeners. It is a sing that encourages people to stand up for what they believe in.
4. “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy
(1989) Written for for Spike Lee’s film, “Do The Right Thing,” is about fighting the abuse of power by law enforcement, according to Public Enemy bass player Brian Hardgrove (source).
5. “War” by Edwin Starr
(1969) Originally performed by The Temptations, made popular and known today in the version by Edwin Starr. This song was a direct protest to the Vietnam War that the United States was fighting. It has been used since as a way to protest several wars and the injustices that they bring.
This list of songs is for primary and elementary age levels when explained in simple terms. There are several more songs that can be added to the list for learners who are able to process more complex historical realities.
Listen to this music activism playlist with your young learners on Spotify.
What songs would you add to this list, and why? Leave a comment to let me know!
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