The protest song has roots in the blues and folk tradition of traveling troubadours, telling stories of love — but also of unrest and confusion. One of the first artists to push the idea of the protest song into popular music was folk legend Woody Guthrie. The “Dust Bowl Troubadour” became famous in the 1940s and ’50s for his songs about Midwestern struggles and Depression-era politics; his “This Land Is Your Land” was originally composed as a protest song written in response to “God Bless America,” which Guthrie felt was unrealistic. He would become a significant influence for future artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
The blues was full of sorrow and lament — and the grim realities of racism made for several harrowing accounts of the pain African American endured in the mid-20th century. Bluesmen such as Big Bill Broonzy sang topical songs like “Black, Brown and White” and Jimmy Weatherspoon blasted rural racism with “Hey Redneck!”
As the rock and R&B era dawned, and especially during the 1960s, protest songs became a fixture in popular music — with some becoming hit singles and others becoming celebrated album tracks by legendary artists.
With the current national unrest regarding the George Zimmerman verdict and the murder of Trayvon Martin, we decided to look at some of the great protest songs throughout music history.
Here’s 25 of the best …