Freedom Songs with Imani Uzuri
Meet the Artist
Called a “postmodernist Bessie Smith” by The Village Voice, composer, vocalist, and cultural worker Imani Uzuri has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists including Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Vijay Iyer, Carrie Mae Weems, and Robert Ashley. Her breakthrough album The Gypsy Diaries was released to critical acclaim. In 2016, Imani made her Lincoln Center American Songbook debut and was a featured performer on Black Girls Rock! on BET. She also composed and co-wrote lyrics for a new musical GIRL Shakes Loose, which was selected for the 2016 O’Neill National Music Theater Conference, and is currently composing a contemporary opera, Hush Arbor. She recently collaborated with The Public Theater on a concert tour of community centers, shelters, and prisons, and is Founder and Artistic Director of Revolutionary Choir.
Artist and Genre Overview
Freedom songs were anthems of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and a potent catalyst for change. These were songs that were made to be sung together in groups to unify the movement and deliver strong, clear messages of liberation. Musically, they are accessible, direct, and repetitive. They embody a range of emotions— joy, sadness, determination, defiance, hope. Many, including “Oh Freedom,” were originally spirituals, but the lyrics were altered to reflect a renewed purpose.
Imani Uzuri is a vocalist and composer whose role as a cultural worker and activist is central to her work. As such, she has taught and sung freedom songs around the world. She composes music that celebrates her rural North Carolina roots and incorporates influences from her global travels. She is currently at work on a new opera as well as a new musical. She is the founder and artistic director of Revolutionary Choir—an organization that sponsors community singing gatherings formed to teach both new and historical freedom songs around the country.
Additional Resources for Teachers
- The Freedom Singers, “Woke Up This Morning” and “We Shall Not Be Moved”
- Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome” and “If I Had a Hammer”
- Joan Baez, “Oh Freedom” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”
- Harry Belafonte, “Oh Freedom”
- Mahalia Jackson Live, “We Shall Overcome”
- Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960–1966, compiled and produced by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon
- Fannie Lou Hamer, “This Little Light of Mine”
- Odetta, “This Little Light of Mine”
- Staple Singers, “Freedom Highway”
- Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a Changin’”
- The Freedom Singers, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”
- Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Its Songs, Candie and Guy Carawan
- “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”: Nina Simone and the Redefining of the Freedom Song of the 1960s, Tammy L. Kernodle
- A Sweet Smell of Roses, Angela Johnson
- Let Freedom Sing, Vanessa Newton
- “A Freedom Singer Shares the Music of the Movement,” Talk of the Nation, interview with Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech