I know there have been a lot of things happening in the world right now, and sometimes it can be hard for kids to understand all of it. It’s often hard for adults to understand all of it too, so it’s ok if you feel overwhelmed. I wanted to start today by sharing a video my friend and fellow educator Mrs. Fritz made for her students. She teaches 1st grade, but I think that this video can help all of us as we try to process our feelings about the big things happening in our country.
Now, since this is a music blog after all, let’s learn to sing a protest song that has been around since the 1940s!
You may not even think of this one as a protest song, but the lyrics are all about making a country that belongs to all of us, and it was even used during the Civil Rights movement. Here is the original version of “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.
Woody Guthrie’s America had a lot of problems all at once, and it’s easy to think he must’ve felt a lot like many of us do right now. During Woody Guthrie’s life, there was a big problem in the Great Plains and the Midwest where the wasn’t enough rain for a long time. The soil on the ground blew around in huge dust clouds, destroying people’s homes and endangering their lives. These people tried to move away to California, but they were greeted at the California border by police officers who told them to go away. Meanwhile, in the South, police officers were enforcing unfair Jim Crow laws that kept black and brown people from sharing schools, bathrooms, water fountains, and everything else with white people. On top of all of that, America’s economy was in a Great Depression, which means there weren’t enough jobs for people, and many people were hungry and homeless. Woody Guthrie wrote this song as he traveled around the country seeing all of these big problems.
Woody Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger brought the song to the Civil Rights Movement. He met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sang some protest songs for him. Dr. King was really struck by the song “We Shall Overcome,” which you can learn all about in my previous post on the song here! Pete Seeger joined Dr. King’s marches, and sang songs like this one to try to help share a message of fairness for everyone. Here’s Pete Seeger singing the song at the “We Are One” concert, celebrating President Obama’s inauguration as our first black president.
In music class, I like to do a comparing and contrasting listening activity about different versions of this song. Can you make a Venn diagram to compare one of the versions above with one of my favorite versions which I’ve posted below? What things are the same? What’s different? (think about the lyrics, the instruments, the style of the music, who is singing, etc.)
Here’s the Sharon Jones version we used on the Venn Diagrams above…it’s a personal favorite of mine and the students can never hold still when we hear it!