/ Civil Rights Songs: A Chronological Listing

This Civil Rights Song List is not a comprehensive catalogue. This list is merely the culmination of a set of lists that I will continue to augment on my own as more songs are created or discovered and added. The data presented here were amassed as a special project during the COVID-19 pandemic and as part of my duties as reference librarian at Oyster Bay-East Norwich Public Library in Oyster Bay, NY. Any opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent those of the library, its staff, or the Board of Trustees.

My own interest in civil rights, and in the power of music, dates back to the early 1960s, when my mother took me to a “Ban the Bomb” demonstration at the United Nations, and my father took me to the August 28, 1963, March on Washington. Their examples and these events would inspire a life of activism expressed through music, including my first musical on atomic testing and imperialism. I also formed the Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus in 1988 to perform works no other chorus would or could do, including the cantata I Have A Dream written by my teacher and mentor Elie Siegmeister and performed in its Manhattan premiere with William Warfield on January 15, 1989, at the Harlem School of the Arts. The attendance of Pete Seeger at that performance prompted him to approach me, leading to wonderful collaborative opportunities in workshops, performances, arrangements, and compositions.

This project is intended as a starting point for others to build on. The list appended to this article is merely a snapshot in time of both a work in progress and, so to speak, a work about progress—social progress. Viewed chronologically, these songs have much to tell about the history of our country—and a few others, as well. Strictly speaking, the list is not exactly chronological: precise months and dates are not taken into account; only years, with titles alphabetized within each year. They begin half a millennium ago, and include every year since 1930 (except 1944, 1950, 1952, 1955, 1961, 1986–7, 1995, and 1997).

The names most frequently recurring here are: Bob Dylan (9); Pete Seeger and Bob Marley (8); Si Kahn and Langston Hughes (7); Elie Siegmeister and Phil Ochs (6); Bernice Johnson Reagon, Marvin Gaye, Tom Paxton, Peace Poets, Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, and Nina Simone (5); Charon Hribar, Kendrick Lamar, Curtis Mayfield, Earl Robinson, and Staple Singers (4); Yara Allen, Marc Blitzstein, Oscar Brown, Jr., Mos Def, Anne Feeney, Rhiannon Giddens, Bertha Gober, Woody Guthrie, Jay-Z, Lead Belly, Tom Lehrer, Gil Scott-Heron, Barrett Strong, Kanye West, and Norman J. Whitfield (3).[1]

Many songs are associated more with their performers than with the writers and composers who created them, the best example being “Strange Fruit,” which is often (mis)attributed to Billie Holiday, though it was written by Abel Meeropol under the pen-name Lewis Allan. Likewise, Lesley Gore is most closely associated with “You Don’t Own Me,” though it was written by John Madara and David White. Many of the songs Elvis Presley sang were also co-copyrighted by him, though he wrote none of them, and he is therefore not listed here. And, of course, “cover” artists like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Mara Levine often sing songs by writers like Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, and Malvina Reynolds, sometimes bringing out the lyricism of the melodies even more than their creators did.  

In defining “song” for this list, I included conventional settings of music for voice(s) with or without accompaniment, chants, talking blues, rap, hip-hop, and some hymns. Purely instrumental pieces, even with political titles, and even if called “songs without words,” are not found here.

Then there is the question of the meaning of “civil rights.” A dictionary definition includes the rights “to political and social freedom and equality.” In general parlance, the term also denotes struggling against racism, prejudice and bigotry. But no matter how political, or relevant, or powerful, or good, not every song of struggle, labor, prison, protest, peace, or even identity—racial or otherwise—is necessarily a civil rights song. Most of the great Spanish Civil War songs are not conventionally considered civil rights songs (even if many have been called “Songs for Democracy”), but I did include Tom Lehrer’s lampoon of them, because of his message, even though satirical, on “the fight against poverty, war and ‘injestice.’” Likewise, I included songs about freedom, slavery, abolition, and the Underground Railroad. Spirituals and religious songs are also on this list if they have been adapted for use in the struggle for civil rights.

The list contains a number of songs that have been repurposed and refocused by adaptation and parody. Many of our nation’s most important songs are indeed parodies or contain satire as a kind of critique, including “America” (“God Save the King”), “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (“John Brown’s Body,” and earlier than that, probably some revival hymns), and “This Land Is Your Land” (a Carter Family tune). Two songs of earlier generations, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” and “We’re Marching to Pretoria,” became adapted as civil rights songs in the 1950s, promoted especially by the Weavers. The first was discovered by Tony Saletan in the Boston Public Library, with roots in the Underground Railroad. The second was actually a British Army song from the Boer War, whose repurposing may be viewed retrospectively as somewhat humorous but effective nonetheless.

Quite a few Broadway shows and songs have dealt with civil rights, at least obliquely, such as Finian’s Rainbow in 1947; “Carefully Taught” in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 South Pacific; “Simple,” which refers to the NAACP, in Anyone Can Whistle by Stephen Sondheim; and as an important theme in Hair, Ragtime, and Raisin—Judd Woldin’s musicalization of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun. The earliest Broadway civil rights song, though, did not begin as one. Paul Robeson transformed “Ol’ Man River” in Jerome Kern’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s Showboat of 1927 from a plaint of resignation into a fighting anthem during the Spanish Civil War, ten years later. Robeson also championed John LaTouche’s and Earl Robinson’s 1939 “Ballad for Americans” and Marc Blitzstein’s 1941 song “Purest Kind of a Guy,” and was particularly fond of its line “black or white or tan . . .” (as attested to by Blitzstein’s sister, Josephine Davis, in interviews with me and Blitzstein biographer Eric Gordon).

Other songs mention civil rights specifically, like Tom Paxton’s “Daily News” or Joel Mandelbaum’s and Leah Fichandler’s “The Causes Are Waiting for You.” Many recent songs have tended toward street chants—for instance, those at Black Lives Matter marches.[2] But I have also tried to include songs from operas and oratorios, such as those about Dr. King, the Freedom Riders, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964, and many more about recent victims like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown.

During the 2020 pandemic, the York Theatre sponsored a seven-round contest for songwriters on a different theme every two weeks. In Week 4, in response to Black Lives Matter, the theme was “What Matters to You.” A few interesting civil rights songs resulted from that assignment. I composed seven songs for the first six rounds, perhaps the most memorable being a collaboration with Suffolk County’s first poet laureate, George Wallace (not to be confused with the late governor of Alabama, about whom there have also been quite a few civil rights songs written). An excerpt from George’s text reads:

we can all fit within
we can all do without
but don’t push outsiders in
by tossing insiders out
fight for your rights as a minority
but don’t dis your allies in the majority

In eschewing capital letters, George admitted to having been influenced by E. E. Cummings, and one of Cummings’s poems also made it into this list—a 1926 anti-war send-up of political hypocrisy, in a couple of settings (mine of 1982; Declan McKenna’s of 2016). The most frequently occurring of any of the writers is Langston Hughes. Hughes’s poems have also been a source of inspiration for quite a few composers, most notably Elie Siegmeister, who set more of his poetry than anyone else. The Hughes poem that seems to have been set by more composers than any other in my lists (eight in total) is “Dreams,” which arguably inspired Dr. King, about whom more civil rights songs seem to have been written than anyone else.

Civil rights songs are constantly being written and could be added to similar lists of your own making. At the time of this writing, I think this is the largest list of its kind (522 items) and so a significant foundation for researchers and others. I encourage anyone who wants to take up the mantle to continue the work.

Chronological List of Civil Rights Song Titles and Creators
(with thanks to Zalmen Mlotek, NYTF; Bennet Zurofsky, Philip Aaberg, and Si Kahn)
1500sDe ColoresSpanish folk; adapted by Cursillos in Majorca, 1944
1700s(There’s a) Better Day A-ComingFolk; adapted by Michel LaRue, 1960
1779 (published as a hymn)Amazing Gracewords: John Newton, 1772; tune: “New Britain”
1800sMir viln frayhayt[We Want Freedom]Anonymous; tune: “Sholom Aleichem”
1824Ode to Joywords: from the poem An die Freude by Friedrich Schiller, 1785; music: Ludwig van Beethoven for his Ninth Symphony, 1824; sung by Paul Robeson for Welsh miners, 1957; sung by Chilean protesters and as Anthem of Europe, 1972; performed as An die Freiheit(“Ode to Freedom”) under Leonard Bernstein at the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989; adapted by the Deadly Snakes, 2003
1825We Are Climbing Jacob’s LadderSpiritual
1842The Abolitionist Hymn [a.k.a. Prayer of the Abolitionist]John Pierpont (tune: “Old Hundredth”)
1841–3 I Am an AbolitionistWilliam Lloyd Garrison (tune: “Auld Lang Syne”)
1842Die Gedanken sind freiHoffmann von Fallersleben
1844 Get Off the Track!Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. (tune: “Old Dan Tucker”)
1844Oh Freedom!Slave song; adapted by John Handcox, 1935; marching song of Atlanta race riots, 1906; sung and then recorded by Odetta, 1944, 1956
1847O Holy Nightwords: Placide Cappeau; music: Adolphe Adam (English translation: John Sullivan Dwight, 1855)
1850s (exact date unknown)No Irish Need ApplyAnonymous
1855 (published)Slavery Is a Hard Foe to Battlewords: Judson Hutchison; tune: “Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel” by Dan Emmett, 1853
1866–92 (exact date unknown)In Ale Gasn—Hey, Hey, Daloy Politzey[Everywhere You Look—Down with the Police!]David Edelstadt (tune includes quote from Russian folk song parodied as “Tsar Nikolai izdal manifest: Myortvym svoboda, zhivikh pod arrest!” [“Tsar Nicholas issued a manifesto: Freedom for the dead; the living under arrest!”] quoted in Leonard Lehrman’s opera Sima, 1976
1899–1966 (exact date unknown)Maknes Geyen[Masses Marching]Mikhl Gelbart
1860s No More Auction Block (for Me) [a.k.a. Many Thousand Gone]Civil War song
1860 Song of the FreeUnderground Railroad Song (tune: “Oh! Susanna”)
1861 John Brown’s Body [a.k.a. The John Brown Song]Anonymous (tune: “Say, Brothers Will You Meet Us?”)
pre-1862Steal AwaySpiritual
1862 The Battle Cry of Freedom [a.k.a. Rally ‘Round the Flag]George Frederick Root
1862Battle Hymn of the Republic [a.k.a. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory]Julia Ward Howe (tune: “John Brown’s Body”)
1862 (published)Go Down, MosesSpiritual (arrangements: Henry Burleigh, Florence Price)
1863 Get on Board [a.k.a. Get on Board, Little Children; a.k.a. The Gospel Train]sometimes credited to John Chamberlain
1864 Wake NicodemusHenry Clay Work
1865 Slavery Chain Done Broke at LastSpiritual (tune: “Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho”)
1867 (published)Michael, Row the Boat AshoreSpiritual (published in Slave Songs of the United States)
1880 We Are Soldiers in the ArmyAnonymous
1856–1932 (exact date unknown)Ale Brider [a.k.a. Un mir zaynen ale brider(And We Are All Brothers)]Morris Winchevsky
1856–1932 (exact date unknown)O di velt vet vern yinger[a.k.a. Di Zukunft(The Future)]Morris Winchevsky
1900 Lift Every Voice and SingJames Weldon Johnson
1907Will the Circle Be Unbroken?words: Ada R. Habershon; music: Charles H. Gabriel
1915 Solidarity Forever Ralph Chaplin (tune: “John Brown’s Body”)
1917Bread and Roseswords: James Oppenheim, 1911; music: Caroline Kohlsaat, 1917
1917I Don’t Feel No-Ways TiredSpiritual (arrangement: Harry Thacker Burleigh)
1917 Walk Together, ChildrenSpiritual (arrangement: J. Rosamond Johnson)
1918 (published)Down by the RiversideSpiritual
1920s This Little Light of Mineadapted by Harry Dixon Loes
1922 This Train (Is Bound for Glory)Gospel
1924The Prisoner’s Song (If I Had the Wings of an Angel)Robert and Guy Massey; copyrighted by Vernon Dalhart
1927 Georgia Stockade BluesSara Martin
1927 (published)He’s Got the Whole World in His HandsSpiritual
1928 (published)Follow the Drinkin’ GourdSpiritual (Underground Railroad song)
1930 (composed)How Can You Keep on Movin’ (Unless You Migrate Too)Agnes “Sis” Cunningham (published in 1959)
1931 I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead (You Rascal You)Sam Theard; adapted by Louis Armstrong
1931 I’ll Fly AwayAlbert Edward Brumley, influenced by “The Prisoner’s Song”
1932Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?from Americana; words: E.Y. “Yip” Harburg; music: Jay Gorney
1932Which Side Are You On?Florence Reece; later adapted by Ani DiFranco, et al
1933 Supper TimeIrving Berlin (written for Ethel Waters)
1934 Park Benchwords: Langston Hughes; music: Elie Siegmeister
1934 The Scottsboro Boys Shall Not Diewords: Charles Abron; music: Elie Siegmeister (a.k.a. L. E. Swift)
1935 We Shall Not Be MovedTextile Workers; many adaptations, thru present
1936 Joe Worker from The Cradle Will Rock; Marc Blitzstein
1937 The Bourgeois BluesHuddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Lead Belly)
1937Ol’ Man River from Show Boat, 1927; words: Oscar Hammerstein; music: Jerome Kern; version adapted & sung by Paul Robeson, 1937
1937 Strange FruitAbel Meeropol (a.k.a. Lewis Allan)
1938 Certainly LordSpiritual (used in Regina by Marc Blitzstein, 1949)
1938 Joe Hillwords: Alfred Hayes; music: Earl Robinson
1938 Precious Lord, Take My Hand [a.k.a. Take My Hand, Precious Lord]Thomas A. Dorsey; Dr. King’s favorite hymn
1939Ballad for Americans [a.k.a. The Ballad for Uncle Sam] from Sing for Your Supper; words: John LaTouche; music: Earl Robinson
1939Free at LastSpiritual (recorded by the Blind Boys of Alabama, 1939); quoted in “I Have a Dream” speech by M. L. King, Jr.; quoted in I Have A Dream Cantata by Elie Siegmeister, 1966–7; quoted in I Have a Dream Oratorio by James Furman, 1970–1

(1939–47

(several versions)

(
There’s a Man Goin’ Round Takin’ NamesHuddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Lead Belly)
1940 Another Man Done Gone(collected by John and Alan Lomax)
1940 Jim Crow (Lincoln Set the Negro Free; Why Is He Still in Slavery?)The Almanac Singers (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Millard Lampell)
1940 (published)Soon I Will Be Done (Gonna Turn the World Around)Spiritual (adapted 2001)
1940 This Land Is Your Land Woody Guthrie (tune: “When the World’s on Fire” by the Carter Family)
1941 The Purest Kind of a Guy from No for an Answer; Marc Blitzstein
1941 Uncle Sam SaysJosh White
1942All You Fascists Bound to LoseWoody Guthrie
1942 I’m On My Way (to [the] Freedom Land)Mamie Brown and Carlton Reece (arrangement: Arthur Stern)
1943 The House I Live Inwords: Abel Meeropol (a.k.a. Lewis Allan); music: Earl Robinson
1945Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: Florence Price
1946 Hallelujah, I’m A-Travelin’Anonymous (tune: “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum”)
1947 Duncan and BradyHuddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Lead Belly)
1947 The Freedom TrainIrving Berlin
1947 (I Will) Move on Up a Little HigherW. Herbert Brewster
1947 Talking UnionMillard Lampell, Lee Hays, and Pete Seeger
1947When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Richfrom Finian’s Rainbow; words: E. Y. “Yip” Harburg; music: Burton Lane
1948Black, Brown and White [Blues]William “Big Bill” Broonzy
1948Brown-Skinned CowHy Zaret and Lou Singer
1948 Passing ThroughDick Blakeslee
1949 If I Had a Hammer [a.k.a. The Hammer Song]Lee Hays and Pete Seeger
1949 You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught from South Pacific; words: Oscar Hammerstein; music: Richard Rodgers
1951 Chalk Marks on the Sidewalkwords: Langston Hughes; music: Elie Siegmeister
1951How I Got OverClara Ward
1953 I Wanna Go Back to DixieTom Lehrer
1953We Are Marching to Pretoria Boer War Song, 1900; adapted by The Weavers, 1953
1954Michael, Row the Boat AshoreSlave song (first published in 1867); adapted by Tony Saletan with harmony and some lyrics changes
1956 Black and WhiteEarl Robinson
1956 Brown Eyed Handsome ManChuck Berry
1956 Union MaidWoody Guthrie (tune: “Red Wing”)
1957 Wasn’t That a Time?Lee Hays
1958Turn, Turn, TurnPete Seeger (words from Ecclesiastes 3:1–8)
1959 Fables of FaubusCharles Mingus
1959 No Crime, No LawLord Commander
1960s (exact date unknown)Calypso Freedom [a.k.a. Freedom’s Coming and It Won’t Be Long]Willie Peacock (tune: “Banana Boat Song [a.k.a. Day-O]”)
1960s (exact date unknown)Everybody Says [Wants] FreedomSpiritual (recorded on Freedom Songs: Selma Alabama, 1965, Smithsonian Folkways)
1960s (exact date unknown)Going Down to MississippiPhil Ochs
1960s (exact date unknown)Governor WallaceFreedom Singers
1960s (exact date unknown)Guide My Feet (While I Run This Race)Spiritual (tune: “Do Lord Remember Me,” attributed to Julia Ward Howe, 1860s)
1960s (exact date unknown)Lord, Hold My Hand While I Run This RaceSpiritual
1960s (exact date unknown)Oh Pritchett, Oh KellyBertha Gober, Rutha Harris, Charles Sherrod, and Jamie Culbreath (tune: “Rockin’ Jerusalem”)
1960s (exact date unknown)Over My Head I See Freedom in the AirBernice Johnson Reagon
1960s (exact date unknown)Walk with Me, LordSpiritual; adapted by Fannie Lou Hamer
1960(There’s a) Better Day A-Comingadapted by Michel LaRue from a 1700s tune
1960 Brown BabyOscar Brown, Jr.
1960Dog, Dog [a.k.a. Dogs; a.k.a. Your Dog Loves My Dog]Freedom Singers
1960Freedom Daywords: Oscar Brown; music: Max Roach
1960 Greensboro [a.k.a. Ballad of the Student Sit-Ins]Guy Caravan, Eve Merriam, and Norma Curtis
1960 Chain GangSam Cooke
1960 We Are Moving On to Vict’ryPete Seeger

(1946–60

(several versions)

(
We Shall OvercomeZilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Caravan, and Pete Seeger (original hymn: “I’ll Overcome Some Day” by Charles Albert Tindley, published 1901; published as “We Will Overcome” in People’s Song Bulletin, 1945)
1962 Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round [a.k.a. Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around]Spiritual
1962 Blowin’ in the WindBob Dylan
1962 The Death [a.k.a. Ballad] of Emmett TillBob Dylan
1962Freedom in the AirBernice Johnson Reagon
1962 Hymn to FreedomOscar Peterson
1962 Ride On Red, Ride OnLouisiana Red
1963 Ain’t A-Scared of Your JailLester Cobb (tune: “Old Grey Mare”)
1963 Been Down into the SouthBob Zellner
1963If You Miss Me at the Back of the BusCharles Neblett (tune: “O Mary, Don’t You Weep”)
1963 Get Your Rights, JackCORE Freedom Singers
1963Go Tell It on the Mountain (to Let My People Go!)Spiritual (published 1909); adapted Fannie Lou Hamer
1963I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be FreeBilly Taylor and Dick Dallas
1963 In the Upper RoomL. E. Campbell
1963 Oginga OdingaMatthew Jones
1963 Only a Pawn in Their GameBob Dylan
1963 Power and the GloryPhil Ochs
1963 Stone Walls and Steel BarsRay Pennington and Roy Marcum
1963 There but for FortunePhil Ochs
1963 Uncle Tom’s PrayerMatthew Jones
1963 We’ll Never Turn BackBertha Gober
1963 Woke Up This Mornin’ (with My Mind Stayed on Freedom)Robert Wesby
1963 You Don’t Own MeJohn Madara and David White
1964Birmingham SundayRichard Fariña 
1964 Carry It OnGil Turner and Marion Wade
1964 A Change Is Gonna ComeSam Cooke
1964 Chimes of FreedomBob Dylan
1964 Daily NewsTom Paxton
1964Dancin’ in the Street(s)Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter
1964 He Was My BrotherPaul Simon
1964I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome TableGospel hymn, adapted by McComb, MS, Freedom School Students
1964 In The Mississippi RiverMarshall Jones
1964 It Isn’t NiceMalvina Reynolds
1964 Keep On PushingThe Impressions
1964 The Lonesome Death of Hattie CarrollBob Dylan
1964 Mississippi GoddamNina Simone
1964 Promised LandChuck Berry (tune: “Wabash Cannonball”)
1964 Simple from Anyone Can Whistle; Stephen Sondheim
1964 The Times They Are A-Changin’Bob Dylan
1964 Too Many Martyrs [a.k.a. The Ballad of Medgar Evers]Phil Ochs
1964 What Did You Learn in School Today?Tom Paxton
1964 When the Ship Comes InBob Dylan
1965 Ain’t That News?Tom Paxton
1965Alabama BluesJ. B. Lenoir
1965 Ballad of a Thin ManBob Dylan
1965Been in the Storm [So Long]Folk
1965Days of DecisionPhil Ochs
1965 The Folk Song ArmyTom Lehrer
1965 Forty Acres and a MuleOscar Brown, Jr.
1965 Four WomenNina Simone
1965 Freedom Is a Constant StruggleRoberta Slavitt
1965Freedom Now Chant(recorded on Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama, 1965, Folkways Records)
1965 Goodman, Schwerner, and ChaneyTom Paxton
1965 Here’s to the State of MississippiPhil Ochs
1965 Keep Your Eyes on the Prize [a.k.a. Hold On]Alice Wine (tune: “Keep Your Hand on the Plow”)
1965 Maggie’s FarmBob Dylan
1965 Michael, Andrew and JamesRichard Fariña
1965 National Brotherhood WeekTom Lehrer

(1965–8

(several versions)

(
Oh WallaceJames Orange
1965 People Get ReadyCurtis Mayfield
1965 RespectOtis Redding
1965 Society’s Child [a.k.a. Baby, I’ve Been Thinking]Janis Ian
1965 Tell It On and OnEdith Segal (on Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney)
1965 (recorded)Wade in the WaterSpiritual (first published by Frederick J. Work and John Wesley Work II in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singer s; recorded as a civil rights song by the Staple Singers on the album Freedom Highway)
1965We Didn’t KnowTom Paxton; adapted by Leonard Lehrman, 2006, 2019
1965 Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?Staples Singers
1966 Ain’t No Mountain High EnoughNickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
1966Burn, Baby, BurnJimmy Collier and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick
1966 For What It’s Worth Stephen Stills
1966 Those Three Are On My MindPete Seeger and Frances Taylor
1966Compared to What?Gene McDaniels
1967Black Boys—White Boys from Hair; words: Gerome Ragni and James Rado; music: Galt MacDermot
1967 Exile; I Have a Dream; The Sound of Freedomexcerpts from Cantata, I Have a Dream; words by Edward Mabley after speech by M.L. King; music by Elie Siegmeister
1967The Motor City Is BurningJohn Lee Hooker
1967 Police on My BackThe Equals
1967 Sittin’ On the Dock of the BayOtis Redding
1967 We’re a WinnerCurtis Mayfield
1967 What’s Goin’ On Down There?Malvina Reynolds
1968 Abraham, Martin and JohnDick Holler
1968Ballad of Martin Luther KingMike Millius
1968 BlackbirdJohn Lennon and Paul McCartney
1968 Blues for Martin Luther KingOtis Spann
1968 Everybody’s Got a Right to LiveFrederick D. Kirkpatrick
1968 Everyday PeopleSly Stone
1968 The Face of War title song in cycle of 5; words: Langston Hughes, 1967; music: Elie Siegmeister, 1968
1968 I[’ve] Been ’Buked and I[’ve] Been Scorned [We’ll Never Turn Back]adapted by Bertha Gober
1968 PiggiesGeorge Harrison
1968Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m ProudJames Brown
1968 Volunteered SlaveryRoland Kirk
1968 Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)Nina Simone
1969 Freedom’s Comin’Charity
1969In the GhettoMac Davis
1969 Have You Been to Jail for Justice?Anne Feeney
1969 Is It Because I’m Black?Syl Johnson
1969 Message from a Black ManBarrett Strong and Norman J. Whitfield
1969 Rebuild America/Keep Hope AliveAnne Feeney
1969 Stand!Sly Stone
1969 To Be Young, Gifted and Blackwords: Weldon Irvine; music: Nina Simone
1969When Will We Be Paid? [for the Work We’ve Done]Staple Singers
1970Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
1970 (Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going to GoCurtis Mayfield
1970 Down in MississippiJ.B. Lenoir
1970 (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the PeopleEugene Record
1970 Freedom RiderTraffic
1970I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)James Brown
1970No More The Lumpen
1970 OhioCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young
1970 Southern ManNeil Young
1970 We Are the People [Who Are] Darker Than BlueCurtis Mayfield
1970 When the Revolution ComesThe Last Poets
1970Yes, We Can Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint (adapted as “Yes, We Can Can” by Allen Toussaint, 1973)
1970–1Liberation/PoemSonia Sanchez
1971 Freedom SongRoberta Flack
1971 Harlem River Drivewords: Calvin Clash; music: Eddie Palmieri
1971 Law and Order from Inner City; words: Eve Merriam; music: Helen Miller
1971 Respect YourselfThe Staple Singers
1971 The Revolution Will Not Be TelevisedGil Scott-Heron
1971Save the ChildrenAl Cleveland, Renaldo Benson, and Marvin Gaye 
1971Smiling Faces SometimesNorman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
1971 What’s Going On?Marvin Gaye
1971Wholy HolyAl Cleveland, Renaldo Benson and Marvin Gaye 
1972 The Harder They ComeJimmy Cliff
1972 I’ll Take You ThereThe Staple Singers
1972 Inner City BluesMarvin Gaye
1972 No KnockGil Scott-Heron
1973 Get Up, Stand UpBob Marley
1973 Living for the CityStevie Wonder
1973Me and Baby BrotherWar
1973Measure the Valleys from Raisin; words: Robert Brittan (after Lorraine Hansberry); music: Judd Woldin
1973 Someday We’ll All Be FreeDonny Hathaway
1974Bread and Roseswords: James Oppenheim, 1911; music: Mimi Fariña, 1974
1974Burn, Baby, BurnHudson Ford
1974 HerculesAaron Neville
1974 RevolutionBob Marley
1974Sweet Home AlabamaLynyrd Skynyrd
1974 Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)Bob Marley
1975 Burnin’ and Lootin’Bob Marley
1975 Chocolate CityParliament
1975 Give the People What They WantThe O’Jays
1975 The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (El pueblo unido jamás será vencido)variations by Frederic Rzewski of 1973 song by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún
1975Politicians in My EyesBobby, David, and Dannis Hackney (a.k.a. “Death”)
1976 Joan [Joanne] LittleBernice Johnson Reagon
1977BaltimoreRandy Newman
1977 Equal RightsPeter Tosh
1977 Harriet TubmanWalter Robinson
1977 95 South, All the Places We’ve BeenGil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
1977 Sorrow, Tears and BloodFela Kuti
1978Brot und Rosen[Bread and Roses]words: James Oppenheim, 1911; translated into German by Peter Maiwald; music: Renate Fresow
1978 The Devil Went Down to GeorgiaCharlie Daniels
1979 ZimbabweBob Marley
1980s (exact date unknown)Courage [My Friend]South African Anti-Apartheid song
1980s (exact date unknown)Walking Down the RoadSi Kahn (written about South Africa)
1980 Real SituationBob Marley
1980 Redemption SongBob Marley
1980 Yes, We Want Our FreedomCleo Kennedy and Carlton Reese
1981Ella’s Song—We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes from the film Fundi; Bernice Johnson Reagon (about Ella Baker)
1981 Mr. PolicemanRick James
1981 Nazi Punks Fuck OffDead Kennedys
1981Rise AboveBlack Flag
1982 I Was Just a Stupid Dog to ThemNina Simone
1982 Know Your RightsThe Clash
1982 “next to of course god”words: E. E. Cummings, 1926; music: Leonard Lehrman
1983 BatterramToddy Tee
1983The Causes Are Waiting for Youwords: Leah Fichandler; music; Joel Mandelbaum; adapted by Leonard Lehrman, 2007
1983 Chant Down BabylonBob Marley
1983I Am What I Am from La Cage aux Folles by Jerry Herman
1983 Sunday Bloody SundayU2
1983Wade the Water to My Kneesadaptation of “Wade in the Water” by McIntosh County Shouters
1984Come the Revolution from E.G.: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman; words: Karen Ruoff Kramer; words and music: Leonard Lehrman
1984 (published)Freedom Is Comingcollected by Anders Nyberg in South African Freedom Songs
1984 MLKU2
1984 Pride (In the Name of Love)U2
1985 They Killed HimKris Kristofferson
1985 Your Daughters and Your SonsTommy Sands
1988 Across the LinesTracy Chapman
1988 Black Steel in the Hour of ChaosPublic Enemy
1988Bread and Roseswords: James Oppenheim, 1911; music: John Denver, 1988
1988Daybreak in Alabamawords: Langston Hughes, 1940; music: Elie Siegmeister
1988 Fight the PowerPublic Enemy
1988 Fuck tha PoliceN.W.A.
1988 I’m Gon’ StandSweet Honey in the Rock
1988 Talkin’ ‘bout a RevolutionTracy Chapman
1988–9Nothin’ [Nothing] NewGloria Estefan
1989Sister RosaThe Neville Brothers
1989They All Sang “Bread and Roses”Si Kahn
1989 We Didn’t Start the FireBilly Joel
1990 Anti-Nigger MachinePublic Enemy
1990 Black and ProudTragedy Khadafi
1990Burn Baby Burn2 Black 2 Strong
1990 (recorded)Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t DoCarlton Reese (Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, Smithsonian Folkways)
1991 By the Time I Get to ArizonaPublic Enemy
1991I Have Seen FreedomSi Kahn
1991 Just a Friendly Game of BaseballMain Source
1991 No Nose JobDigital Underground
1991 Old Jack DaveySi Kahn
1991 OptimisticSounds of Blackness
1992 Cop KillerBody Count
1992 Wake UpRage Against the Machine
1992 Who Got the CameraIce Cube
1992 Killing in the NameRage Against the Machine
1993 Just Another Day...Queen Latifah
1993 None of Us Are FreeBarry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Brenda Russell
1993 Putting Up ResistanceBeres Hammond
1993 Sound of da PoliceKRS-One
1993 U.N.I.T.Y.Queen Latifah
1994 I Love EverybodyLyle Lovett
1994Like a KingBen Harper
1996 Bulls on ParadeRage Against the Machine
1996 Make Them Hear You from Ragtime; Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens
1996 The PrideChuck D
1996 They Don’t Care About UsMichael Jackson
1996 To Live and Die in L.A.Makaveli [Tupac Shakur]
1996White Man’z WorldMakaveli [Tupac Shakur]
1998 ChangesTupac Shakur
1998Daybreak in Alabamawords: Langston Hughes, 1940; music: Ricky Ian Gordon
1998 Forgive Them FatherLauryn Hill
1998 Lincoln’s ArmyThe Irish Rovers
1999 ColorgateJulie Gibbons Kinscheck
1999 Freedom SongCosmoPop
1999 MathematicsMos Def
1999 Umi SaysMos Def
2000Can U C the Pride in the Panther?Mos Def (based on poetry by Tupac Shakur)
2000A Tree Never GrownMos Def and Talib Kweli
2000Welcome to S.N.C.C.James Horner
pre-2001 (exact date unknown)We Shall Not Give Up the FightAnti-apartheid song
2001American Skin (41 Shots)Bruce Springsteen
2001Burn Baby BurnAsh
2002A Dream Deferred [a.k.a. Harlem]words: Langston Hughes, 1951; music: Leonard Lehrman
2002My BlockScarface
2003Everyone’s a Little Bit Racistfrom Avenue Q by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marks
2003Song of FreedomMarty Sampson
2004Ghetto GospelTupac Shakur (posthumous release of 1992 recording)
2004Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: Dave Brubeck
2004I Just Wanna LiveGood Charlotte
2004‘MericanThe Descendents
2004Rise Above ItAfro Celt Sound System
2005 Freedom SongLuc and the Lovingtons
2005Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: Leonard Lehrman
2005Up to the MountainPatty Griffin
2006Ballad of Martin Luther KingMichael Borkson
2006A DreamCommon
2007Be the ChangeArlon Bennett
2007Black BoysBashy
2007Freedom Ain’t FreeBrother Ali
2007From the Plantation to the PenitentiaryWynton Marsalis
2007Harder Than You ThinkPublic Enemy
2007Same ThingFlobots
2008By My SilenceEllen Bukstel and Nick Annis
2008Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: André J. Thomas
2008If You’re Out ThereJohn Legend
2008Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.Kurt Wagner
2008Take It from Dr. KingPete Seeger
2008We Are the Oneswill.i.am
2008Yes We Canwords: “Barack Obama concession speech at New Hampshire primary”; music: will.i.am
2009John BrownDavid Rovics
2010 Long Island Is Just Not Long Enoughwords: Marcia McNair, 2009; music: Leonard Lehrman
20101960 What?Gregory Porter
2010Not AfraidEminem
2010PowerKanye West
2011 (exact date unknown)About FaceMaggie Martin
2011For Gene DebsAnne Feeney
2011Let America Be America Againwords: Langston Hughes, 1935; music: Leonard Lehrman
2011My Name Is Emmett TillEmmylou Harris
2011No Church in the WindJay-Z and Kanye West
2011Nothin’ NewAb-Soul
2011The People Will RiseNelini Stamp
2011So Beautiful or So WhatPaul Simon
2011We Are the Ones (We’ve Been Waiting For)Melissa Etheridge
2005–12 (exact date unknown)Spirit Found Uswords: David Schiffman, 2005; music: Lisa G. Littlebird
2012Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)Lupe Fiasco
2012Black RageLauryn Hill (tune: “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, 1960; music: Richard Rodgers)
2012Blood from StonesSi Kahn
2012Break the ChainTena Clark and Tim Heintz
2012Land of the FreeEsperanza Spalding
2012Vann PlantationSi Kahn
2012We Are AliveBruce Springsteen
2013Freedom Song (They’ll Never Take Us Down)Neil Diamond
2013Hell You TalmboutJanelle Monáe
2013Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: Susan LaBarr
2013New SlavesKanye West
2013OneIndia.Arie
2014Be FreeJ. Cole (about Michael Brown)
2014The CharadeD’Angelo
2014Don’t ShootThe Game
2014Everybody Ought To Know What Freedom IsYsaye Barnwell (adapted from hymn by Harry Dixon Loes, 1940)
2014Glory from Selma; Common and John Legend
2014Hands UpVince Staples
2014Marching on FergusonTom Morello
2014One LoveElle Varner
2014Rollcall for Those AbsentAmbrose Akinmusire
2014UnityTheFatRat (Christian Büttner)
2014We Are StrongLil Bibby
2014We Gotta PrayAlicia Keys
2014White PrivilegeMacklemore and Ryan Lewis
2015All BlackRaftaar
2015AlrightKendrick Lamar
2015BaltimorePrince
2015The Blacker the BerryKendrick Lamar
2015ChainsUsher
2015Cry No MoreRhiannon Giddens
2015Freedom Is a Funny ThingMalik & The O.G’s
2015Freedom Side—Which Side Are You On?Movement for Black Lives (adaptor unknown) (tune: Which Side Are You On?)
2015Hand in HandJayanthi Kyle and Wes Burdine
2015I Am Not AfraidPeace Poets
2015It’s Not So Very Far from the Mississippi ClayGreg Artzner and Terry Leonino
2015King KuntaKendrick Lamar
2015We Will Remember: Song for Michael BrownRaging Grannies, Vicki Ryder, NJ Solidarity Singers, Roseanne DePasquale (tune: “The Water Is Wide”)
2015Wesley’s TheoryKendrick Lamar
2016Better DaysVictoria Monét and Ariana Grande
2016 Black America AgainCommon
2016 F.U.B.U.Solange
2016 FormationBeyoncé
2016 FreedomBeyoncé
2016 Freedom FreestyleJoe Budden
2016 Hands UpDaye Jack and Killer Mike
2016 Here in My HandsAmy Wadge
2016 How ManyMiguel
2016 I’m Gonna Lift My Sister/Brother UpFaya Rose Toure
2016 I’m Gonna Walk It With YouBrian Claflin and Ellie Grace
2016 Isombardwords: “next to of course god america i” by E. E. Cummings, 1926; music: Declan McKenna
2016 Last OnesAmaal Nuux
2016 Lead with LoveMelanie DeMore
2016 A Lot of LoveChris Brown
2016 Mi Unica(No human being will ever be illegal)Peace Poets
2016 No Justice No PeaceZ-ro
2016 Nobody SpeakDJ Shadow
2016 Sad NewsSwizz Beatz
2016 (Same Old) Rich Man’s StrategyPeace Poets
2016 Sandra’s SmileBlood Orange
2016 16 ShotsStefflon Don
2016 SpiritualJay Z
2016 Thieves! Screamed the GhostRun The Jewels
2017Bleed the SameMandisa
2017Freedom HighwayRhiannon Giddens
2017Harriet—The ConductorLak
2017i can’t breatheBea Miller
2017*Insert Here*VANT
2017Land of the FreeJoey Bada$$
2017Nothin’ New21 Savage
2017People Gonna Rise Like the WaterPeace Poets
2017Praying with Our FeetRabbi Joe Black and Steven Brodsky
2017Room for the RefugeeTom Bias
2017Sing Out/March OnJoshuah Campbell
2017The Story of O.J.Jay-Z
2017Tear Down That WallBright Light Social Hour
2017Ten Thousand BridgesGreg Artzner and Terry Leonino
2017(There Are) More Waters RisingSaro Lynch Thomason
2017We Will Rise TogetherHali Hammer
2018BlamGeorgia Anne Muldrow
2018Blue LightsJorja Smith
2018Calling All [the] WarriorsDina Erie
2018Cops Shot the KidNas
2018Don’t Don’t Do It!Jay Rock
2018A Dream Deferred [a.k.a. Harlem]words: Langston Hughes, 1951; music: Ricky Ian Gordon
2018Freedom Ain’t FreeAnika Whitfield
2018Hold Fast to Dreamswords: Langston Hughes, 1922; music: Joel Thompson
2018I Have Seen Freedom Being BornJoe Jencks
2018I Wanna Be Ready for Change to ComeCharon Hribar (tune: “I Wanna Die Easy”)
2018Kapernick EffectJAG
2018King’s DeadJay Rock
2018Love It If We Made ItThe 1975
2018Rise UpCharon Hribar and Jose Vasquez
2018Shake Injustice OffYara Allen (tune: “Shake the Devil Off”)
20186 SummersAnderson .Paak
2018Somebody’s Hurting My Brother [My Sister] [Our People]Yara Allen
2018The Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink)Shad
2018There’s a Moral Revolution Going OnRuth MacKenzie
2018This Is AmericaChildish Gambino [Donald Glover]
2018Un Zol vi Veyt(Dos Naye Lid[The New Song])words: Avrom Reisen; music: Louis Schwartz
2018Unsettling ForceLuke Nephew
2018We are the ProtectorsPeace Poets
2018 (exact date unknown)We Have ComeLuke Neighbor
2018Why Are the Guns Still Firing?Joe Jencks
2019Be a PainAlastair Moock
2019Bells (Ring Loudly)Terri Lyne Carrington
2019Don’t You Wanna VoteYara Allen (tune: “Don’t You Wanna Go”)
2019In My Heart (I Want to Fight for...)Composer unknown
2019Land of the FreeThe Killers
2019Mamma’s Cryin’ LongRhiannon Giddens
2019NinaRapsody
2019Organize, Organize, OrganizeComposer unknown (adapted by Charon Hribar)
2019Our HandsLu Aya and Charon Hribar
2019Revealing the TruthLu Aya
2019Strange ThingsComposer unknown (adapted by Karen Porter and VT Solidarity Singers)
2019There’s a New World Coming OverBernice Johnson Reagon
2020All That MattersDana Vance
2020The Bigger PictureLil Baby
2020Black Like MeMickey Guyton
2020body castDua Saleh
2020Bread, Roses and RBG’s Last Wishwords: Leonard Lehrman (on Ruth Bader Ginsburg) (music: “Bread and Roses” by Mimi Fariña, 1974)
2020BREATHEAdrienne Danrich and Drew Hemenger
2020Cops with Guns are the Worst!!!Snotty Nose Rez Kids
2020Days of Decision(adapted for John Lewis by Roseanne DePasquale) (based on “Days of Decision,” Phil Ochs, 1965)
2020Freedom Is A Constant SongSi Kahn
2020FrightenedDave Williams
2020Hallelujah; I’m On My Journey; Ride the Chariotexcerpts from opera Freedom Ride by Dan Shore
2020I Can’t BreatheH.E.R.
2020Imaginary Graduation SpeechLeonard Lehrman
2020JU$TRun The Jewels, Zack De La Rocha, and Pharrell Williams
2020Our Turn NowLen Seligman (on John Lewis)
2020Pig FeetTerrace Martin
2020Pity the Nationwords: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 2007; music: Leonard Lehrman
2020Say Can You SeeScott Cook
2020Scottie BeamFreddie Gibbs and The Alchemist
2020Sin Aire[Without Air]Rafa Pabön
2020Stay in Place, Stay Alive, OrganizeNatalie Robinson and Jessica Petersen (tune: “Organize, Organize, Organize”)
2020SweeterLeon Bridges
2020Thinking Outside the BoxGeorge Wallace and Leonard Lehrman
2020UnderdogAlicia Keys, Johnny McDaid, Ed Sheeran, Amy Wadge, Jonny Coffer, and Foy Vance
2020Walking in the SnowRun The Jewels
2020What MattersLeonard Lehrman

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgments are in order to the authors of various online lists posted by The Progressive, The Nation, Rolling Stone, the Poor People’s March, and Students4Khazei on Spotify; along with Zalmen Mlotek, Si Kahn, Philip Aaberg, Bennet Zurofsky & the Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, and Forward March’s Dave Williams. Also to Ralph Locke and Michael Beckerman, who encouraged me to submit this to Music & Politics.


    1. My own name appears quite a few times as well since, as a composer, I know my own works catalog more thoroughly than anyone else’s.return to text

    2. On June 19, 2020, I joined and spoke at one such march, recalling words I had heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., say in Washington and in Great Neck.return to text