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Songs to Remember: A Juneteenth Playlist
Dave Cosby

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth and the date June 19th commemorates the fall of slavery in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 to free enslaved Black people held in the Confederacy. News of Union troops' victory over the Confederates spread slowly across the South, eventually reaching the shores of Galveston in 1865.

Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021, traces its roots to Galveston, Texas. "We are not celebrating the history of Juneteenth. We are celebrating the symbolism of Juneteenth," Leslie Wilson, a professor of history at Montclair State University in New Jersey, told NPR in 2023. "The symbolism of Juneteenth is the transition from slavery to freedom."

Celebrations of the holiday started out regionally in Texas, but as Black Americans spread out across the United States, they brought their traditions with them, including remembrances for one of the final vestiges of chattel slavery.

"You could say that Juneteenth had a renaissance, largely because when World War II was over and soldiers came home, it was the second Great Migration. People started traveling from various points in the South to points in the North and points in the West," Wilson told NPR. "During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, with civil rights and also with the Black Power movement, Juneteenth became a symbol of strength as well as a symbol of triumph for African Americans."

As a salute to Juneteenth, we would like to share a short playlist of songs that celebrate and exemplify the great joy all Americans should feel as we celebrate the new beginnings for African Americans that began on that day - June 19, 1865.
1.     "Oh Freedom" performed by The Golden Gospel
“Oh Freedom” was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite songs. It is a powerful song of strength and resilience as when it states “ Before I’d be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be saved.” It is a post-Civil War African-American freedom song. It is strongly associated with the Civil Rights Movement. One of its most recognized performances was Joan Baez’s performance at the March on Washington in 1963.
2.     "Lift Every Voice and Sing" performed by Melinda Doolittle
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" is a hymn with lyrics by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954). Lift Every Voice and Sing" has been called the Black National Anthem, and has been a source of inspiration and pride for generations.
3.     "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" by The Tennessee Gospel Society
"Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is an old negro spiritual of known origin, as it was composed by Wallace Willis, a Choctaw freedman, in Oklahoma. In addition to its musical beauty, it has been reported that the song was also a signal that Harriet Tubman or the Underground Railroad was about to help enslaved people escape to freedom. 
4.      "How I Got Over" sung by Mahalia Jackson. 
“How I Got Over” was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite songs, and he often personally requested that Mahalia Jackson sing this at his appearances, including the March on Washington. It is a song that stresses African Americans’ strong faith and belief that helped them to work and persevere until better times had been achieved.
5.     "A Change is Gonna Come" sung by Sam Cooke
"A Change is Gonna Come" is a pop song written and performed by Rhythm and Blues star Sam Cooke after a devastating incidence of racial prejudice. It was released on December 22, 1964, and it became a popular, meaningful, and aspirational song during the Civil Rights movement and beyond. The power of this song can still be felt and inspire today’s listeners.
6.     "Alabama" performed by saxophonist John Coltrane
This beautiful and haunting instrumental song by John Coltrane was inspired by and written as a tribute to the four young African American girls that were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama on September 15, 1963. On November 18, 1963, John Coltrane and his group recorded Alabama as a musical memorial and tribute to those four young girls who lost their lives.
7.     "We Shall Overcome" by Mahalia Jackson
"We Shall Overcome" is one of the best known and most significant songs of the Civil Rights Movement. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901 as: "I'll Overcome Someday."  The Civil Rights Movement was not the first political use of this song, but much of its popularity and familiarity came from its use during the March on Washington of 1963 and its use throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Mahalia Jackson was one of Martin Luther King’s favorite singers.
8.     "Stand Up" by Cynthia Arvio
"Stand Up" is a contemporary song from the soundtrack of the movie “Harriet.” It’s lyrics, sound, and message evoke many of the same powerful emotions as more traditional songs associated with the historic struggle for Civil Rights for African Americans. “Stand Up” is a powerful song about yearning for freedom, the same freedom that Juneteenth celebrates.
9.     "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
"Wake Up Everybody" is an R&B song from 1975. The song inspirationally and emphatically appeals to the African American community to continue its social and civic activism to obtain the goals for the African American community that were first put into place on June 19, 1865 in Galveston Texas.

10.  "Ain’t No Stopping Us Now" by McFadden and Whitehead
"Ain’t No Stopping Us Now" is a song with a powerful message and an infectious beat that came out in 1979.  The song is about the resilience and perseverance of African American people. Here is just a sample of the lyrics:

“But we won't let nothing hold us back
We're puttin' ourselves together
We're polishing up our act, well
And if you've ever been held down before
I know you refuse to be held down any more”
At the time, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” was so popular and meaningful for the African American community, that many called “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” the new Black National Anthem with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” being the first.
This is just a small sample of the many songs of pride, strength, and perseverance that acknowledge and celebrate the significance of Juneteenth.  I hope this short collection of songs may be a source of inspiration, joy, and reflection as the Holderness community collectively celebrates Juneteenth 2024.

About Dave Cosby
David Cosby is the Director of Music at Holderness School, an accomplished jazz guitarist and composer, and a Doctorate student at Boston University. David has a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Guitar from Rutgers University, and a Master’s Degree in Historical Musicology from the University of Virginia. He is also the recipient of a prestigious Morroe Berger – Benny Carter – Ed Berger Jazz Research Fellowship at the Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies in Newark.



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