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Freedom Songs with Imani Uzuri

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.

Meet Imani Uzuri!

Meet Imani Uzuri!

Introduce your students to Imani Uzuri with this “Meet Imani Uzuri” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Imani Uzuri and the other Program One artists.

Lessons

People carrying protest signs during a civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

Lesson 1: Learning “Freedom Medley”

Students learn three historically significant freedom songs, and learn about their shared characteristics by uniting them in a medley.
Painting of a freedom march: "We Shall Overcome"

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

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.

Resources for Teachers

The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.

Listening

Readings

Videos

Literacy Extension

  • A Sweet Smell of Roses, Angela Johnson
  • Let Freedom Sing, Vanessa Newton
Image Credits

“Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.” by Warren K Leffler.
“We Shall Overcome” photograph by Thomas Hawk is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.

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