Lowell Lecture

Lowell Lecture — Dr. John Edward Hasse: The Music of Civil Rights, from Strange Fruit to The Roots

Date & Time

May 22, 2024 at 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.


Boston Public Library - Rabb Lecture Hall
700 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02116
Driving Directions


Dr. John Edward Hasse, long-time music curator at the Smithsonian and Duke Ellington’s biographer, plays stirring video clips of these songs that inspired, motivated, and advocated for what Martin Luther King called for in his “I have a dream” speech: that we all be judged not by the color of our skin, “but by the content of our character.” He will also play works by W.C. Handy and Duke Ellington that helped lay the musical foundation for the Civil Rights movement.

Presenting Organization

Boston Public Library




Adult Programs Department (programs@bpl.org, 617-859-2129)

Music has always been central to the African American quest for freedom. The Civil Rights struggle and its music provided some of America’s most powerful calls of hope, moral clarity, and equity.

During the 19th century, spirituals such as Steal Away carried coded protest. In the 20th century, protest became explicit. In the 1930s Ethel Waters sang an anti-lynching song that shocked Broadway and Billie Holiday bravely recorded the stinging song Strange Fruit. Duke Ellington’s long career spoke for racial respect and civil rights in such pieces as Black Beauty and [Martin Luther] King Fit the Battle of Alabam’.

As political action picked up and in the 1950s and 1960s, We Shall Overcome became the clarion anthem of the Civil Rights movement and central to America’s moral quest for “a more perfect Union.” Old songs like This Little Light of Mine took on new meaning and fresh songs appeared such as If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus. Black and white activists alike sang Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. And great artists—such as Sam Cooke (A Change is Gonna Come), The Impressions (People Get Ready), James Brown (Say It Loud), Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, on up to The Roots—all sang to advance respect and equality.

Registration is required. Please visit the link to the event organizer's website on this entry for more information.