Joan Baez and Bob Dylan performing at the March on Washington in 1963

Fight the Power: Music as a Social Force

Music is a powerful tool for social change.

The story of rock & roll overlaps with some of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. In the 1960s, for example, Americans debated the Cold War, civil rights, women's rights, and the Vietnam War. Musicians entered these debates by spreading messages of revolution, protest, and empowerment through musical performances in styles as diverse as folk, rock, and soul.

In "Fight the Power," students will think critically about how rock & roll musicians in the 1960s and early 1970s challenged audiences to consider alternatives and make changes in their communities. Students will listen to and view performances by legendary artists as they are engaged in identifying social commentary in lyrics, performance styles, and historical images.

Related content areas: Language arts, social studies, fine arts / music
Level: grades 7–12
Days offered: Tuesday–Friday (October to June)
Times offered: 10:00am or 11:30am
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: Up to 150 students per session
Available supplemental materials: See below!

Register for This Class

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The program is FREE for schools within zip codes that begin with 440, 441, 442, or 443. Regional groups can participate in Rockin’ the Schools for a discounted rate.

Questions? E-mail us.

Bob Dylan Writing Prompt

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Bob Dylan Writing Prompt

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Click this link to download the writing prompt as a PowerPoint file.

Write Your Own Protest Song Activity

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An activity adaptable for students in grades 7-12.

This activity asks students to consider issues important to them and write their own protest songs, just as musicians of the 1960s expressed opinions on social issues including the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women's Liberation Movement.

Write Your Own Protest Song Activity

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Click here to download a PDF copy of the activity instructions.

"Fight the Power" Glossary

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A glossary of terms related to this class. 

Terms defined: Civil rights, Cold War, Counterculture, Empowerment, Military draft, Musical style, Protest, Psychedelic, Racial segregation, Revolution, Society, Symbolism, Vietnam War

 

"Fight the Power" Glossary

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Click here to download a PDF copy of the glossary.

Videos

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Graham Nash discusses photographs taken at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Kent State students were protesting the Vietnam War when the National Guard opened fire on the students. Nash recalls his reaction to the Kent State shootings and the connection to the song "Ohio." These photographs were included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit "Graham Nash: Touching the Flame." 

Graham Nash performs an excerpt of the protest song "Ohio," written by Neil Young.

The countercultural movement and its music had close ties to protest and other socially conscious music, especially in the 1960s. In this video, members of the bands Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead discuss the characteristics of psychedelic music.

President Jimmy Carter discusses some of the ways that musicians helped his political career. Often, musicians have credibility and influence with various types of audience.

"Music either supports the status quo or shallenges the status quo." Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello shares why he thinks 100% of music is political.

Inductee Biographies

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Read more about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees covered in this class!