Soundtrack for Social Justice

By Jade Perry

Soundtrack for Social Justice

One of the chief goals of Music Makes Me Happy includes “raising awareness about the positive effects of using music to inspire social change”. Today, I’m thinking about all of the social justice issues that are in our country and in our world. Many of our readers have spent the year embarking on advocacy work within various systems such as the educational system, healthcare system, legal system, and more. So, while music makes us happy, it also makes us equipped, encouraged, and ready to inspire social change.

Dr. Birgitta Johnson, ethnomusicologist and Assistant Professor of Music at the University of South Carolina School of Music explains, “There has been no struggle, movement, uprising, or protest gesture among African Americans that did not include music…” in her post titled Playlist for the March on Ferguson aka Black Lives Matter. I highly suggest taking a look at that list and adding those to your ‘Soundtrack for Social Justice’!

Here are a few others I think are worth mentioning and adding to your playlists:

1) The Charade – D’Angelo, Black Messiah

Last December, the New York Times confirmed that D’Angelo’s album Black Messiah was inspired by his efforts to give social commentary to what was going on nationally in light of the police brutality enacted on Black lives. While the album features songs that are also about love, reminiscing on times past, and other themes, The Charade speaks poignantly about societal ills.

2) Glory – John Legend & Common, Selma Soundtrack

This song moved many upon its debut alongside the Selma film, directed by Ava Duvernay. The film interpreted the life and movement-building of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while the song, ‘Glory’ served as a musical reflection on both the film and current social justice initiatives.

3) Black Gold – Esperanza Spalding feat. Algebra Blessett, Radio Music Society

In 2012, NPR featured this song along with a commentary that Spalding wrote regarding the song. She explained:

“This song is singing to our African American heritage before slavery. Over the decades, so much of the strength in the African American community has seeded from resistance and endurance. I wanted to address the part of our heritage spanning back to pre-colonial Africa and the elements of Black pride that draw from our connection to our ancestors in their own land. I particularly wanted to create something that spoke to young boys…”

4) Someday We’ll All Be Free – Donny Hathaway, Extension of a Man

Donny Hathaway’s repertoire is full of songs that speak to social justice issues. He consistently did this in a way that was musically excellent and emotionally stirring. “Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free…” is a refrain that has spanned generations.

5) Hell You Talmbout (Song & Chant) – Janelle Monae, Electric Lady

Hell You Talmbout is a song that artist, Janelle Monae, initially released on the deluxe version of Electric Lady. Monae is a musical storyteller who used each verse as vignettes from the “electric jungles” of city life. She refers to the excessive policing of communities, drug use and abuse, and the pursuit of higher education in these settings. 


However, what I also appreciated was her follow-up HellYouTalmbout chant, which called forth the names of victims of police brutality as a sign of protest. During the Eephus tour, Janelle Monae and other Wondaland artists performed this chant among community members in various cities along their tour:

These are a few songs to add to your Soundtrack for Social Justice! For more songs and history on the subject, check out Dr. Birgitta Johnson’s Ferguson playlist, as well!

Author Bio: Jade T. Perry a contributing writer for Music Makes Me Happy and other online platforms! She is a car-concert vocalist, avid tea drinker, & overall life enthusiast! Follow her on Twitter @Jade_T_P and read her consistent commentary on life, culture, spirituality, and style over at JadeTPerry.com.

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

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