USA: Thousands of protest songs hidden out of fear of retribution

20 April 2015


Out of fear of retribution many American protest musicians hid perhaps thousands of protest songs in plain sight: on the B-sides of the small 45 rpm records that were then commonly used to distribute singles in the era of the civil rights protest movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Many of the gospel artists, we are just now discovering, used that B-side to give a message of support and hope for the civil rights movement at the time when it was very dangerous to do so,” says Bob Darden, a professor at Baylor University. He runs a project which has digitized more than 25,000 records.

Black musicians were right to be wary of how they distributed their political music and who noticed it, wrote Jared Goyette from PRI. They knew they could pay a heavy price if it got into the wrong hands.

“If you had a loan and people found out you were politically active, sometimes the bank would either call for the loan to be paid in full or they would increase your rates,” said Birgitta Johnson, a professor of music at the University of South Carolina to PRI’s Studio 360.

» PRI – 14 April 2015:
How the forgotten music of the civil rights movement was hiding in plain sight
A treasure trove of long-forgotten civil rights era protest music could have been lost forever if one man hadn’t thought to start flipping over old records to see what was on the other side.

» More about music censorship in USA in the 1960s

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