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Soundtrack for a Revolution | Article


Soundtrack for a Revolution tells the story of the American civil rights movement through its powerful music -- the freedom songs that protesters sang on picket lines, in mass meetings, in police wagons, and in jail cells as they fought for justice and equality. A unique mix of historical documentary and contemporary musical performance, the film features new performances by top artists including John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, and The Roots; riveting archival footage; and interviews with civil rights foot soldiers and leaders, including Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, Andrew Young, and dozens more.

The freedom songs that propelled the civil rights movement -- from the Montgomery bus boycott to lunch counter sit-ins, from Birmingham to the march on Washington and to Selma -- evolved from slave chants, from the labor movement, and especially from the black church. They enabled blacks to sing words they could not say, and were crucial in helping the civil rights activists as they faced down brutal aggression with dignity and non-violence. The film weaves together contemporary performances of such timeless songs as "Eyes on the Prize," "Wade in the Water," and "We Shall Overcome," with heart-wrenching interviews and dramatic footage from the front lines of the fight for freedom.

Soundtrack for a Revolution celebrates the vitality of the freedom songs and explores how these simple but stirring anthems had the power to sustain the movement during its darkest hours. The film tracks the progress of the civil rights movement from its regional non-violent beginnings in Alabama in the mid-1950s, to its ultimately successful campaign of national unity in the 1960s. Led and organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and student leaders, the civil rights movement's spiritual and moral elements were embodied in the songs sung and chanted on the movement's many stages. The old spirituals not only unified African-Americans during marches and individual acts of protest, but they also influenced the language of the civil rights movement itself. "It was the music that gave us the drive, the will, to go on, in spite of it all," explained former student movement leader and Congressman John Lewis.

After the December 1, 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to remove herself from the 'whites only' section of a segregated bus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tasked with coordinating a formal Montgomery Bus Boycott. King encouraged followers to take non-violent action by evoking imagery found in historical songs like "Wade in the Water." Although the song was first sung by American slaves fleeing to the north in the late 19th century, its meaning encouraged boycotters to believe in the strength of their mission. Reverend Harold Middlebrook described the timelessness of African American protest songs by saying, "You take that which has expressed your inner most feelings over centuries and use it as the vehicle, the tool, to express where you are and the oppression and the suffering that you feel at this given time."

Throughout the civil rights movement activists expressed their own feeling of discontent with racist government policies and flagrant bigotry through song: as civil rights leaders continued to preach non-violence and organize peaceful lunch counter sit-ins across the South, there was Guy and Candie Carawan's "I'm Going to sit at the Welcome Table"; during the tumultuous 1961 Freedom Rides, the verse of "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round"; amidst the 1963 March on Washington and the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, the triumphant words to "We Shall Overcome." Even after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, mourners found comfort in the songs of the revolution. As they marched with his casket down the streets of Atlanta, Dr. King's supporters sang all of the songs that had inspired the civil rights movement, giving them the courage to challenge the status quo and the drive to keep fighting for equality in America.

[NOTE: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE does not have streaming rights for Soundtrack for a Revolution]

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