Published June 25, 2019

In our recent show, Music and Democracy, Charlie McGovern helps us trace the evolution of social change in America through popular songs by the likes of Nat King Cole, Percy Mayfield, Lena Horne, and the Impressions. These are all of the songs mentioned in the segment, presented with snippets from our conversation. Be sure to check out Charlie’s new book Body and Soul: Race, Citizenship and Popular Music, 1930-1977 to learn more.

Glen Miller and the Army Air Force Band – Goodnight Wherever You Are (1944)

“The song could be about anyone anywhere, but is both talking about a loved one in danger, and a prayer for their safety.”

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – Smoke on the Water (1945)

“In Country Music and Blues, folks were often much more direct in their patriotic sentiments.”

Frank Sinatra – House I live In (1945)

“Frank Sinatra devoted a lot of his time as a young artist to doing work for racial and ethnic tolerance. One of the cornerstones of his efforts was the song ‘House I Live In.'”

Nat King Cole – My Brother (1951)

“African Americans often demanded respect, solidarity, and especially a place for themselves. No one did that better than Nat King Cole, and his song “My Brother” is a fabulous example.”

Lena Horne – Now (1963)

“This is one of the most powerful Civil Rights songs that ever appeared on a pop ‘45, disturbing Americans by putting the lie to the politeness surrounding political discourse.” 

The Drifters – Up In the Streets of Harlem (1972)

“The Drifters brought the story of activism to the personal, local level, using Harlem to stand for black communities everywhere.”

The Impressions – This Is My Country (1968)

“Curtis Mayfield said that being enslaved, and working for freedom, has made Black Americans just as important and entitled as anyone else.”


Learning Experience

Virginia History in Song

What can songs teach us about history?

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