Smorgasbord Music Column – Protest Songs from the last 150 years.. and still coming!

Musicians have voiced their protest for governments, wars, inequality for centuries, sometimes camouflaged with pretty words and secret codes that were only recognised by those within an inner circle.

This included innocent sounding nursery rhymes that really depicted dreadful events such as Mary, Mary Quite Contrary (Mary 1st who had Protestants despatched to the hereafter) Ring Around the Rosy (about the black death) and Ladybird, Ladybird (about Catholic persecution).

When I was a teenager in the 1960s there were plenty of examples of protest anthems against racial discrimination and later the Vietnam War.. and they filtered across to the UK charts, but were not necessarily fully  appreciated by the English audiences with little grasp of the complexities of American culture at the time.

The 1840s and 1850s

The civil rights protest songs began more than a century before with the fight for the abolition of slavery, and a group of singers The Hutchinson Family took their message to a nationwide audience in the 1840s and 1850s.

“Get Off The Track” was a song written and made famous by the most popular United States singing troupe of the 1840s and 1850s, the Hutchinson Family Singers. Scott Gac wrote a book about the Hutchinson Family called “Singing for Freedom.”

The Hutchinson Family became famous by attaching themselves to the American Anti-slavery Society, a church-based group that fought slavery in the courts. They traveled the country, singing at Society meetings, selling sheet music for their songs and, Gac says, changing the way American reformers expressed themselves.

“The Hutchinson family singers don’t invent protest music, but what the Hutchinsons create, really as American singers they create the idea of a protest singer can make money,” Gac said.

The 1960s

The abolition of slavery did not however bring the freedoms envisaged by the lyrics and 120 years later Sam Cooke released  A Change is Gonna Come during the civil rights movement. Although change did come, there are still minority groups who have still not achieved parity with the rest of us.

The Vietnam War resulted in physical and musical protests by prominent stars of film and music and their influence was felt across the Atlantic. As a long time fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival, I must have listened to ‘Fortunate Son‘ many times without realising the significance. It was only later when reading more about their music that I discovered that it was not just about the war but about the disparity of who went and who was rich enough or connected enough to be exempt!

The 1970s

In the 1970s it was the time of the feminist movement and Aretha Franklin took an Otis Redding Song. R.E.S.P.E.C.T and with a few little tweaks it became an anthem that is still as relevant today.

The 1980s

Over on our side of the water.. we had our own conflict in the 1980s – Brothers in Arms was released during The Falklands War by Dire Straits about the folly of war and was banned by the BBC!

We also had a dreadful conflict in Northern Ireland that set brother against brother and blighted the childhood of thousands of Belfast children.. Simple Minds released this in 1989.

Simple Minds

Up to the present day.

With global conflicts and discrimination against colour, race and creed, it is not surprising that there is still a need for protest songs to be aired. Sometimes at great risk to those artists in certain regimes.

For most of us Freedom of Speech is a right that we have and should cherish more. And it is interesting that most of the songs that I have mentioned have long outlived either the governments, specific heads of state and events they were protesting. Other unjust systems however do seem to find little resolution.

And now people are taking to the streets again…in particular in the run up to the vote on November 6th in the USA. There are those that say American politics and actions are none of anybody else’s business, but unfortunately everyone in this global economy is interconnected with each other.

To end this post one of the latest protest songs suggested by D.G. Kaye  Amazon

It will not only be those who live in America who will be waiting to see the outcome of the vote on November 6th.. the rest of the world is waiting too…and hoping for the best outcome for the country and those of us who depend on the strength and influence of the United States for our own stability.

Thanks for dropping in today and if you have a protest song that means a great deal to you please leave the link in the comments.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Music Column -William Price King – Summer Jazz – Roberta Flack Part One.

Welcome to the start of the Summer Jazz Season where we revisit some of the amazing artists featured at the beginning of the music column back in 2015. William Price King will be taking a break from July 5th until September, but we don’t want you to miss out on the music.

The Music Column will now be posted on Tuesday mornings, just after midnight.

The first series for the summer is the fabulous Roberta Flack who has now officially retired from touring, but still delights her fans from time to time with performances.

Roberta Flack – The Early Years.

indexRoberta Flack is a musician and singer best known for her gentle arrangements and performances of Gospel, Soul, Jazz, Pop, R&B and folk music. Some of her most well-known hits include The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Killing Me Softly With His Song and Feel Like Making Love.

Here is one of the most haunting arrangements of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The folk song was written by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger in 1957. When they eventually married they would perform the song in folk clubs around Britain and whilst covered by various singers, it would not become a major international hit until recorded by Roberta Flack in 1972. It won Grammy awards for both Record and Song of the Year and it was ranked number one song of the year in 1972

Over her long career Roberta Flack has influenced and opened doors for many other female singers who were empowered by her spirit and talented dedication to outstanding music. She is a member of the Artist Empowerment Coalition which advocates the right of artists to control their creative properties and Roberta also founded The Roberta Flack School of Music in the Bronx in New York City. In partnership with the Hyde Leadership Chart School. The programme provides free music education to underprivileged students.

The Early Years.

Roberta was born in 1937 in Black Mountain, North Carolina to Laron and Irene Flack. Her mother was a church organist and Roberta and her family moved to Arlington, Virginia where she was brought up. She was introduced to outstanding musicians such as Sam Cooke through the family Baptist church. And she was influenced by one of the great Gospel singers of the day, Mahalia Jackson. Here is Mahalia’s powerful version of Amazing Grace.

By age nine Roberta began learning to play the piano. It was clear as she entered her teens that she was a very talented classical pianist and she was accepted into Howard University on a full music scholarship. At only 15 she was one of the youngest ever to enrol and it was here that she became interested in using her voice as another instrument. She changed her major from piano and eventually became the assistant conductor with the university choir. Whilst at Howard, Roberta met Donny Hathaway who would become her singing partner on hits such as Where Is The Love.

The song was written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter and recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in 1972. It reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and a week each at number one on the Easy Listening and R&B charts. It also won best Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with vocal.

Unfortunately, after graduating and continuing her studies in music, her father Laron died and to help support the family, Roberta took a job teaching music and English in North Carolina. She also taught private music lessons at her home but in the evenings and weekends her own music career began to take off in the Washington D.C hot spots.

At first she employed her wonderful musicality as a pianist and would accompany other singers including an opera singer at The Tivoli Club. During the breaks she would entertain in a back room playing piano, singing blues and folk songs with some of the pop standards of the day. These short performances developed into her own gigs several nights a week at the 1520 Club.

Roberta was still taking voice lessons and her teacher, Frederick Wilkerson told her he thought her future lay in pop music rather than in the classics. She took his advice and changed the content of her performances. Her reputation began to spread and in 1968 her professional career took off with a regular engagement at Mr. Henry’s Restaurant, in Georgetown.

Eventually Roberta was performing three or four shows a day to a very appreciative audience and that audience included some famous and influential artists of the time including Burt Bacharach and Johnny Mathis.

To close this first part of the Roberta Flack here is Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye from the 1969 album First Take released in 1969. The song had been written by Canadian Leonard Cohen and released originally in 1967

Next week we follow the meteoric rise in Roberta Flack’s career in the 70s and 80s.

Buy Roberta Flack’s music :

Additional Sources


About William Price King

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo called “Clear Cut,” and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.

In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.

His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.

William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION

Connect with William

Regular Venue 

You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory:

and all the previous posts on jazz, classical and contemporary artists here:

Thank you for tuning in today and I hope you will join us again next Tuesday for the second part of the Roberta Flack series. Thanks Sally and William.