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The music sung by protesters in the American Civil Rights Movement was inseparable from the music in black Protestant churches. Despite the firm boundaries between the sacred and the secular in black Baptist and Methodist traditions, protesters adapted sacred hymns for secular protest use. Termed freedom songs, the music bound protesters together by shared spiritual associations with the music and by a communal performance experience.
This study explores the adaptation process of the freedom song using We Shall Overcome as a case study. An examination of the traditions of black American church institutions and the musical and textual attributes of the adapted song genres clarifies the methods by which protesters transformed sacred hymns and songs. Elements of black sacred music, simple and repetitive melodies and texts and universal themes, facilitated the adaptation of sacred hymns and songs. We Shall Overcome embodied all the adaptive musical characteristics inherent in freedom songs but at an elevated level. Moreover, additional functions of the black church, for example to serve as socioeconomic support to the oppressed black community in post-Civil War America, transformed social activism into a spiritual endeavor. It was inevitable that sacred traditions, namely music, aided social activism.
Date27 June 2006
CreatorsNeal, Brandi Amanda
ContributorsDeane L. Root, James P. Cassaro, Don O. Franklin, Mary S. Lewis
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh
Source SetsUniversity of Pittsburgh
Detected LanguageEnglish
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