Freedom Songs were songs sung by participants in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. They are a subset or type of protest song. Freedom songs were often sung during protests or marches related to the movement. They are also called "Civil Rights anthems" or, in the more hymn-like cases, "Civil Rights hymns."
In several cases these songs began as gospel or spiritual, the most famous of these being "We Shall Overcome,", "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," "This Little Light of Mine," and "Go Tell it on the Mountain".
Nina Simone and other professional artists are also known for writing or singing such songs. Two examples being:
- "Mississippi Goddam", from Nina Simone in Concert (1964).
- "To Be Young, Gifted and Black", from Black Gold (1970).
Activist Fannie Lou Hamer is known for singing songs at marches or other protests, particularly "This Little Light of Mine." Zilphia Horton also played a role in the conversion of spirituals to civil rights songs.
Additional Freedom Songs
Some 100 or so songs were commonly sung on Civil Rights Movement protests during the 1960s. Some of the best known include:
- "A Change Is Gonna Come (song)": Composed and performed by Sam Cooke; #12 on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list of Rolling Stone magazine
- Oh, Freedom": a spiritual dating back to slavery times
- "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round"
- "Certainly Lord": based on a spiritual
- "Hold On" (also known as "Keep Your Eye On The Prize"): Based on a spiritual
- "If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus": Adapted from a composition by Chico Neblett
- "I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table": Adapted from a Spiritual
- "I Woke Up This Mornin'": Adapted from a Spiritual
- "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing": Composed by James Weldon Johnson
- "This Little Light of Mine": Originally a spiritual, associated with Fannie Lou Hamer.
- "We shall not be moved": Also, likely originally, a labor union song.
- "If I had a hammer": A labor union song by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays.
- Everybody Says Freedom, by Pete Seeger & Bob Reiser. Norton, 1989
- When the Spirit Says Sing! The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement, by Kerran Sanger. Taylor & Francis Inc, 1995
- Sing for Freedom: the Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through its Songs, by Guy and Candie Carawan, Sing Out Corporation 1990
- The Songs - University of Illinois
- "People Get Ready": Music and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s - History Now
- Coco Jams
- About.com Top 10 Civil Rights Songs
- The Power of Freedom Songs ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- The Mix: Songs Inspired By The Civil Rights Movement - A collection of 150 songs that were either sung during the movement or, afterwards, inspired by the movement. This list was produced by NPR Music to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.