When Bob Dylan began writing his own material in the early ’60s, he wrote a number of songs dealing in one way or another with racism and the abuse of African Americans in this country. So I thought it fitting on this day in which we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday (he was born January 15, 1929), that we listen to some of the powerful ‘protest’ songs of Bob Dylan.
On August 28, 1963 Bob Dylan was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the “March On Washington,” performing “When The Ship Comes In” with Joan Baez and “Only A Pawn In Their Game” solo before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his remarkable “I have a dream” speech:
Most of the songs I’ve included below made it onto The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’. One is from Another Side Of Bob Dylan.
One, “The Death Of Emmett Till,” was recorded for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan but didn’t make the cut.
I’ve also included “Maggie’s Farm,” which may not be as direct as some of the earlier songs, but is certainly about the oppression of the poor by the wealthy (and plenty more).
These are powerful songs. They hit home when they were first released, and all these years later they have lost none of their potency.
Certainly great strides have been made in the area of equal rights since the early ’60s, but things are far from perfect. Consider the Supreme Court cutting the Voting Rights Act last year, and the how badly President Obama has been treated by Republicans in the House and Senate. Or the needless death of Trayvon Martin.
These songs are heavy, and they remind us of what’s at stake, and of the power of music.
“When The Ship Comes In,” August 28, 1963 (performed with Joan Baez at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.):
“Only A Pawn In Their Game,” August 28, 1963 (performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.):
“Blowin’ In The Wind,” 1963 (Town Hall, New York):
“The Death Of Emmett Till” (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan outtake):
“Ballad Of Hollis Brown”:
“The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll”:
“Chimes Of Freedom”:
“The Times They Are A-Changin'”:
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