June 16, 2020
“…[S]uccessful movements to advance civil rights for historically marginalized groups relied not just on political action. Music, culture, art, television, churches, neighborhood groups, and volunteer organizations have played instrumental parts in bringing about change.” – Beth Holland and Sarah Silvers, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)” One thing I like about this quote is it captures the reality that there is not just one answer or just one route to progress; there are many, and they are all important. Another thing I like about the quote is it helps break down an overwhelming situation into a more manageable question of, “What can I do, right now?” Obviously, this podcast is all about music, and its effect on our lives. And we’re talking today about what role music can play in advancing social justice.
My guest today is my first-ever repeat guest, the award-winning musician Bruce Henry, who is joining us today from Chicago. Bruce is an in-demand educator with a deep understanding of the connection between history, music and culture. He has recorded for Disney and HBO; he has performed with Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, and Bobby McFerrin. Bruce helped us recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January of this year by spotlighting the role and impact of music and spirituals within African American culture. He has graciously agreed to join us again today.
- Bruce and I discuss the quote “…[S]uccessful movements to advance civil rights for historically marginalized groups relied not just on political action. Music, culture, art, television, churches, neighborhood groups, and volunteer organizations have played instrumental parts in bringing about change.” That quote is from the book, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)” by Beth Holland and Sarah Silvers (and I highly recommend it). One thing I like about the quote is it captures the reality that there is not just one answer or just one route to progress; there are many, and they are all important. The other thing I like about the quote is it helps break down an overwhelming situation into a more manageable question of, “What can I do, right now?”
- Bruce references Sam Cooke’s music, especially “A Change is Gonna Come” (one of the great civil rights anthems of the 1960s and a complement to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”):
- Bruce’s recommendations:
- Realize and accept that this disparity in social justice is the reality in America, and has been throughout its entire history.
- Educate ourselves on historical and current social justice events. Read books and articles, and watch movies on the subject. Pay attention and be aware of studies and news in our local areas. Here is an example of a recent news article noting the disparity for Black Americans in the Twin Cities ranks for African Americans.
- Use music to protest and tell the story of social injustice.
- After you are informed, humbly listen to others’ experiences and perspective.
- Be active in lending your art and talent, time, money, name, and prestige to the struggle. Align with non-profit organizations
- We discuss some artists who are using conscious music for social action, including Michael Franti and Twin Cities artists Larry Long; Debbie Duncan; Mick Sterling; Kevin, Donald, and Faye Washington.
- Thank you to my friends at the MN Opera who have compiled (and are continually updating) a list of excellent resources for us to both help and learn as we all look for ways to be part of the solution to the problem of racism.
- We discuss this inspiring Michael Franti Instagram post:
Bruce sings a song a cappella that he wrote in 1978 in response to events in Atlanta, “The Atlanta Song.” The song is beautiful and powerful, an anthem calling us to unite and keep the wheels turning to make the world a better place.
A huge thanks again to Bruce for sharing his story and music, his perspective and challenge, and his encouragement.
There is a blog I subscribe to called Be More With Less, and just today I read the author, Courtney Carver’s, recent post on the topic of “Let’s Be In This Together,” with “this” being anti-racism. This is a fantastic article with links to other articles, books, organizations, and also recommendations of people of color to follow on Instagram, which I thought was a great idea to be continually getting bits of information and perspective on a regular basis, after the books have been read and the videos have been watched. This Friday is Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. I encourage you to recognize the holiday by checking out some of these resources, or those included in the MN Opera listing that I’ve referenced in the last couple episodes – I’ve been making my way through those and highly recommend the videos of Trevor Noah and Rachel Cargle – they’re 18 min & 13 min, so not very long and really informative and helpful in identifying my own blind spots when it comes to race. Let me know if you have any other recommendations or resources on this topic. You can connect with me on social media, email, or through my website (comment below).
Thank you for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.
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