The Evolution of American Protest Music

Week 1: Frameworks

Readings and Media

Watch: The Evolution of American Protest Music (7 mins)

Read: Dunaway-music-politics-intro

( In the file below)

Optional: Listen: The Power of Music in Protest (2020, MPR radio)

Optional: Read: How to Figure Out a Song’s Meaning

Optional: Read: How to Analyze Lyrics and Write Better Ones

Music listening/viewing:

Watch: Pete Seeger – If I Had A Hammer (1956) LEGENDADO

Watch: Harlem Gospel Choir – Amazing Grace (EXCLUSIVE)

Watch: “Happy Days are Here Again!” (Ben Selvin and the Crooners, 1930)

Watch: Johnny Paycheck – Take This Job And Shove It (Audio)

1)Discussion questions:

Respond Briefly to each of the following:

1. How do you define music? How do you define politics?

2. How do you define a social movement? What is social solidarity?

3. What role does music play in your life?

What might be other ways that music functions for individuals and social groups?

4. What social and/or political issue(s) is (are) most important to you right now? Why? Are there songs that relate to this? If so, name at least one.

5. What music do you listen to (i.e., songs, artists, genres)? Does it have political messages?  If so, do those messages relate to larger social movements?


Respond to each of the following prompts. Word count should be at least 750 words total. Include a works cited page. You must incorporate/cite the Dunaway reading. Submissions that do not cite it will receive a ZERO, but may be resubmitted for a capped grade of up to 70%.

  1. Dunaway reading: How does he define ‘political music’? Do you agree? Why, or why not? What are the 3 characteristics of political songs as artefacts?
  2. What are some presidential campaign songs in American history? Name at least 2 from the early 20th century. Going beyond the reading, doing individual research, identify at least one popular song that was used during a 21st century U.S. presidential campaign. How was it used? What was the artist’s reaction to its use in this way?
  3. Choose a contemporary popular song that you believe is political in some way. What type(s) of song do you think it is (according to Dunaway’s types, see page 286)? What function(s) does the song serve (according to Dunaway’s model, see page 286-7)? Cite excerpts of the song’s lyrics to support your answers. Discuss the song in terms of: mood, genre, instrumentation, voice/speaker, poetics (metaphors, slang, double meanings, etc.), imagery, historical context, & themes.

3)Extra Credit:

What is the history of the song ‘Amazing Grace’? Who wrote it? When? Why? Give 3 examples of the ways in which this song has been adopted, adapted, and used since its original creation. How do the ‘cover’ versions retain the original meaning of the song, and how do they extend it? Cite at l