American pride? 11 songs about a complicated America, by Prince, Dolly Parton and more

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and said in his historic “I Have A Dream” speech, “Now is the time to take our nation out from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

In 2012, the Recording Academy recognized King’s speech for its historical significance by inducting the recording into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. Delivered in front of 250,000 people, “I Have A Dream” culminated the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a rally organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations that called for the adoption of a meaningful civil rights legislation and a program to provide jobs, among other demands.

Several artists have used music to call for a solid rock of brotherhood and brotherly love over the years. GRAMMY winners Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Mahalia Jackson were among the performers who stood with King during the March on Washington and dared to dream of a better America. On August 28, President Barack Obama – joined by other GRAMMY winners such as LeAnn Rimes and BeBe Winans and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – will deliver his own speech at the Let Freedom Ring commemoration and appeal to action. ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

As the bells ring across the country, we encourage you to let freedom ring by marching to the beat of our March on Washington 50th Anniversary GRAMMY Playlist.

“Blow in the Wind”
Peter, Paul & Mary, Best Performance by a Vocal Group, Best Folk Recording, 1963; GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2003

Peter, Paul & Mary’s cover of Bob Dylan’s popular protest song was one of two songs performed by the trio during the March on Washington. The two-time GRAMMY-winning track rightly asked walkers, “How many roads must a man walk / Before you call him a man?” The answer, of course, was blowing in the wind.

“A change is coming”
Sam Cooke, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

Considered one of the defining anthems of the civil rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released in 1964 by R&B singer Cooke in response to Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Cooke’s heartbreaking track was voted No. 12 on rolling stoneThe list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and embodies the hope and change that King called for 50 years ago.

“Ohio”
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2009

Although written by Canadian Neil Young, “Ohio” spoke of the outrage many felt over the Kent State shootings in Kent, Ohio in 1970. The song openly questioned the death of four unarmed students who were killed by the Ohio National Guard at a campus. Demonstration against the Vietnam War.

“Get Up, Get Up”
Bob Marley & The Wailers, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 1999

Written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, this classic reggae track was featured on the Wailers’ 1973 album Burn‘. The group’s signature call to action demanded that people “stand up, stand up / stand up for your rights”. In 1999, the track was the first reggae song to be inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.

“Born in the USA”
Bruce Springsteennominated for record of the year, 1985

Although often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, “Born In The USA” is actually about the desperate setback to the American dream faced by some Vietnam War veterans. Yet the album of the same name earned a GRAMMY nomination for Album of the Year, spawned no less than seven Top 10 hits, and was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2012.

“Fighting the Power”
Public Enemy, nominated for Best Rap Performance, 1989

It might take a nation of millions to hold listeners to Public Enemy’s divisive and controversial hit “Fight The Power.” Chosen by director Spike Lee as the theme music for his 1989 film do the right thingthe track calls out to everyone from Elvis to the US government, imploring people to “fight the powers that be”.

“Guerilla Radio”
Rage Against The Machine, Best Hard Rock Performance, 2000

Featured on Rage Against The Machine’s 1999 GRAMMY nominated album The Battle of Los Angeles“Guerrilla Radio” is the band’s call to turn off the lights, turn up the radio, and silence those they describe as “blood- and oil-thirsty vultures.”

“Revolution 1”
The Beatles, The Beatles, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

A year before John Lennon and Yoko Ono celebrated a two-week bed-in for peace in 1969, the Beatles released this tune written by Lennon/McCartney featured on The Beatles (“The White Album”). The song was about Lennon’s skepticism about some of the radical tactics used to protest the Vietnam War, offering a tongue-in-cheek guarantee that everything would “be okay”.

“War”
Edwin Starr, Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Nominee, 1970

Written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield to protest the Vietnam War, “War” was originally recorded by the Temptations. Starr’s version of this classic track helped him achieve legendary status on the soul circuit. His coverage was intense and direct, simply stating, “I said, dammit war / What’s the point? / Absolutely nothing!”

‘Times are changing’
Bob Dylan, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2013 inductee

Following the release of “Blowin’ In The Wind”, Dylan provided another anthemic protest song with “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. Since its release in 1964, the song has been covered by artists such as the Beach Boys, Joan Baez, Phil Collins, Billy Joel and Nina Simone, among others, in difficult and ever-changing times.

“What the world needs now is love”
Jackie DeShannon, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2008 Inductee

After all the protests, marches and calls for change have died down, no song should be launched as loudly as DeShannon’s 1965 hit “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” Per DeShannon: All we need “is love, sweet love / No, not just for some, but for everybody.”

Do you know a song that changed the world? Let us know in the comments.


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Grace D. Erickson