Protest & Political
The 1960s proved to be a ripe time for counterculture movements in the United States. With Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burgeoning Civil Rights Movement and push for permanent desegregation in the south and the rapid and controversial escalation of US involvement in the Vietnam War, much of the population, particularly the youth, became disenchanted with the conservative government regime and were not passive in their resistance. Many young musicians, enjoying popularity fueled by the emergence of rock n’ roll in the late '50s in direct contrast to the pretentious jazz and big band genres of the adult generations, used their influence to motivate these new young activists in mass protests.
The folk genre, which was experiencing a revival with mainstream popularity like never before, became a major source for protest music. Artists like Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez sang openly against the actions of the government and helped activist leaders like King mobilize young protestors.
Although the genre of protest and political songs was not a new one, this music had never been played on the radio or distributed and celebrated so freely before. Satirical lyrics did little to mask the outrage of this young generation of activists who expressed no fear in mocking leaders or overtly criticizing the commanding regime. The effect of this music in inspiring and encouraging the counterculture movement of the '60s cannot be understated, nor can the role of the musicians themselves in political protests. Baez put it beautifully when she said, “Social justice is the true core of my life, looming larger than music.”
Perhaps the climax of this decade was 1969’s Woodstock music festival in upstate New York, a massive gathering of people under the collective banner of peace and love. Well over half-a-million turned out for the weekend event to protest the Vietnam War and promote the unity of humankind through music, demonstrating the power of music to bring people together and initiate change.