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Lesson 1: Learning “Freedom Medley”

Aim: What are the defining characteristics shared by the most powerful and iconic freedom songs?

Summary: Students learn three historically significant freedom songs, and learn about their shared characteristics by uniting them in a medley.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources
Standards: National 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11
Vocabulary: freedom song, medley

Imani has created a medley that fuses parts of three of iconic freedom songs: “We Shall Overcome,” “Oh Freedom,” and “Woke Up This Morning.” Your students will learn all three of these songs and then explore how Imani arranged them to create a medley, highlighting their shared characteristics.

Imani Uzuri Teaches “Freedom Medley”

“Freedom Medley” Demonstration

Freedom Songs artist Imani Uzuri teaches “Freedom Medley.”

Sing Three Freedom Songs and Imani’s “Freedom Medley”

  • Listen and sing along to the three songs in the “Freedom Medley.” Suggested versions of “We Shall Overcome” and “Oh Freedom” can be found under Resources for Teachers. “Woke Up This Morning” is included in the medley in its entirety and can be heard on Track 12.

What follows are some of the best-known lyrics for these songs. The common practice with freedom songs is to change key phrases or add additional verses that speak to specific situations. So you will find different lyrics online and in recordings, and you will have opportunities to write additional lyrics with your students.

“We Shall Overcome”

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome someday

We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome someday

“Oh Freedom”

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me.
Before I’d be enslaved
I’ll be buried in my grave and go home and be free.

No more weeping, no more weeping over me.
Before I’d be enslaved
I’ll be buried in my grave and go home and be free.

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me.
Before I’d be enslaved
I’ll be buried in my grave and go home and be free.

“Woke Up This Morning”

Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom
(x3)
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah

I’m walking and talking with my mind stayed on freedom
(x3)
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah

There ain’t no harm in keepin’ your mind stayed on freedom
(x3)
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah

Singing and praying with my mind stayed on freedom
(x3)
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah

  • Listen to Imani’s “Freedom Medley,” Track 11. Note that single lines from “We Shall Overcome” and “Oh Freedom” return as refrains.
    • Which line do you hear from “We Shall Overcome”?
    • Which line do you hear from “Oh Freedom”?
  • Learn the two refrains from the medley using “Oh Freedom” refrain, Track 13, and “We Shall Overcome” refrain, Track 14.
  • Divide the class in half. Play the “Freedom Medley,” Track 11, with one group singing one refrain and the other group singing the other refrain. Everyone sings “Woke Up This Morning.”

Create Your Own Medley

Your students will have an opportunity to create their own medley using the three songs in Imani’s medley. This activity can be done as a class or in small groups.
  • Listen to Imani’s “Freedom Medley,” Track 11. Discuss how she arranged the songs to create the medley.
    • What part did she use from each of the songs?
    • How did she use each part?
  • Discuss the similarities shared by these three songs that make them all work well together in the medley.
    • The lyrics are simple: Key lines are repeated over and over, with small phrases changing.
    • The music is simple: The same melodic phrases are repeated multiple times.
    • The lyrics all share an important theme or message.
      • What is the theme or message expressed in all three songs?
      • What emotions are expressed in all three songs?
  • Ask students to choose their favorite parts from each song. Like Imani, they can choose single lines or whole verses.
  • Ask students to decide how they would like to arrange the pieces that they chose
    • Which part goes first? Second? Third?
    • Does any part get repeated?
  • Students can then perform their medleys, dividing into groups to sing each of the different parts or singing the whole medley together as a group.
Creative Extension

Learning about the 1960s

Family Stories
This is an opportunity for your students to talk to older family and community members about their personal experiences during the 1960s and with music from the 1960s.
  • The 1960s happened more than 50 years ago, but continue to have an impact today. Can you find an older family member, friend of the family, or community member who remembers that time?
  • If you can, ask them about their memories. Were they in the United States? Did they take part in the Civil Rights Movement or in other protests that were happening? You can also ask your parents if they know any family stories about the 1960s.
  • Ask your family members what music from the 1960s they like and listen to. Listen to some of their favorite songs with them. Which songs do you like, and why?

On Great Freedom Singers of the ‘60s (PDF), students will learn about some of the great freedom singers of the 1960s. Listen as a class to sample songs by each of these artists, which you can find on Imani’s Artist Resources page.

Musical Word Wall

Add the words freedom song and medley to the Musical Word Wall.

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