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Lesson 2: Learning “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”

Aim: How can we use lyrics in a song to deliver an important message?

Summary: Students change the message of the song by altering one key word; they also have an opportunity to write their own song delivering a message that is important to them.
Additional Materials: crayons, markers, or colored pencils; poster board
Standards: National 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11
Vocabulary: message

Imani Uzuri Teaches “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” Demonstration

Freedom Songs artist Imani Uzuri teaches “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” with Charles Burnham, vocals and violin, and Marvin Sewell, guitar.

Sing Imani Uzuri’s “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”

  • Listen to “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” Track 15.
    • Only one word changes in each verse. Which word is it?
  • Sing along to “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around,
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
I’m gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’,
Marchin’ up that freedom land.

Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around,
Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse turn me around
I’m gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’,
Marchin’ up that freedom land.

Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around,
Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
I’m gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’,
Marchin’ up that freedom land.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around,
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
I’m gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’,
Marchin’ up that freedom land.

Imani Uzuri's Revolutionary Choir

Imani created a program called the Revolutionary Choir that works with community groups of all ages to teach songs of unity and solidarity that they sing together and share publicly. In that spirit, your students can bring freedom songs out into their community, singing at school assemblies, in the playground, and in the surrounding neighborhood. Make your own protest signs and even write your own songs.

Write New Lyrics for “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”

  • It is a tradition in freedom songs to write new lyrics about an issue or a problem that is most urgent at a given time.
  • There are many versions of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” where the word “nobody” is replaced with a specific person or obstacle. Links to additional versions of this song are available on Imani’s artist resources page.
  • As a class or in small groups, write a new phrase to replace the word “nobody” that reflects your students’ concerns and hopes.
    • What is something that can get in your way when you are trying to reach a goal?
    • How can you express that idea in a short phrase that will fit into the line of music? Say and/or sing the line of music and experiment with different phrases.
  • Each group can lead the whole class in singing its version of the song; the group calls the first line, and the class responds with the second line. Everyone sings the final two lines of each chorus together.
  • You can do this same activity with any of the three freedom songs in Lesson 1.
Creative Extension

Write Your Own Song

We hope you and your students will be inspired by the study of freedom songs to create a song about change that speaks to you. Send your songs to musicalexplorers@carnegiehall.org.

  • Discuss issues on students’ minds. They can be issues at home, at school, or in the larger world. No issue is too small or personal. The goal is to change the world somehow, but the world can be defined as locally or as globally as you want.
  • Here are some guiding questions:
    • What is a problem in our lives?
    • How does it make you feel?
    • What stands in our way?
    • What can we do about it?
  • Brainstorm lyrics as a group. You can choose an existing melody and write new lyrics, or you can go all out and write your own melody too.
  • Some tips for writing a melody:
    • Start with the rhythm of the words. Have students chant the words on a single note.
    • Decide where you want the melody of each line to go up and down, and whether the change will happen gradually (by step) or all at once (by leap).
    • Draw the melodic line, illustrating its contour.
    • Choose a simple chord progression, common to freedom songs and other folk songs. One possibility is to use the chords of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” instrumental, Track 16. Responding to your students’ guidance and suggestion, shape the melody to fit the chord progression.
Creative Extension

Protest Signs

  • On Make Your Own Protest Sign (PDF), your students will have an opportunity to create their own protest sign to express their hopes, dreams, and demands for change to make the world a better place. You can use the same brainstorming process outlined in the activities in Write Your Own Song, TG44. For this activity, they’ll need to distill their message into a few words and images. Once they’ve designed their signs in their student guides, you can adapt them to larger versions to hang up, or to carry when they “take to the streets” during the Musical Explorers sing out day.
Literacy Extension

A Sweet Smell of Roses

Angela Johnson’s book, A Sweet Smell of Roses, offers a perspective on the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of two African American girls who tell their story of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"A sweet smell of roses" book cover depicting two children watching people march past carrying an American flag

Literacy Extension

Let Freedom Sing

Many iconic figures contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. Explore some of the most influential moments in which those people “let their lights shine” in Vanessa Newton’s book, Let Freedom Sing.

"Let Freedom Sing" book cover depicting African Americans marching

Musical Word Wall

Add the word message to the Musical Word Wall.

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