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Arts & Culture

Hartford Professor Explores the Voices of Civil Rights

A professor is offering a course later this semester that explores the power of music on major civil rights movements around the world.

University of Hartford associate professor of ethnomusicology Anthony Rauche said much of the focus will be on the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, when a confluence of cultural movements came together to give the civil rights movement its collective voice.

"It was a happy coincidence the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the counterculture, all had ties with the folk song revival," said Rauche. "Popular music took a different turn, and people were looking for things that had meaning."

Rauche used the example of the children's spiritual, "This Little Light of Mine," which became a hit song for folk singer Odetta in 1963.

"But when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. heard there was an assassination attempt, he gathered people around where he was staying, and they sang this song," said Rauche. "Most people would tend to think of this as a song of comfort, but I think it is a call to activity." 

"This Little Light of Mine" became one of the most enduring songs of the civil rights era.

Rauche said singing songs as a form of protest predates the American civil rights movement by hundreds of years, and continues to this day, like J. Cole's "Be Free," one of the songs to come out of the recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Anthony Rauche sees a thread and similarity between songs like "This Little Light of Mine" and "Be Free."

"Music for mass movements does have a tendency to create cohesion, to bring people together, to generate emotion and spirit, but I think these types of songs set in motion various themes and direction for action," said Rauche.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”

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