Iraq war the latest conflict to inspire U.S. musicians

Colleen Stein

Colleen Stein

For better or worse, war and politics have always managed to inspire American music.

The United States heard some of its first songs of protest when enslaved Africans were brought to America in 1619. Filling the ominous silence of the cotton fields with their low soulful anthems, slaves used simple songs to communicate spiritual and imperial meanings.

These hymns influenced the blues era, when black singers drew upon their ancestry for inspiration. Singer Billie Holiday became well known for her song “Strange Fruit.”

“In Strange Fruit, [Holiday] is singing of these dark, odd looking shapes hanging from tree branches.” SDSU music professor, Anthony Lis explained. “Of course later in the song you figure out she’s referring to the bodies of slaves who have been hung.”

In other parts of the world, Native Americans utilized songs to prepare themselves for battle against armies of white settlers. “The Ghost Dance,” developed by a Paiute prophet was sung at the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

It was also later used the stand-off at Wounded Knee led by the American Indian Movement, an event which recently marked its 30th Anniversary.

Political and civil rights music hit its peak during the 1960s and 70’s as the Vietnam raged and Martin Luther King Jr. pushed for African American rights and equality.

Bob Dylan stood out as the innovator in music that surpassed racial and social boundaries; bringing fans together to both recognize and escape America’s problems.

Today, in the midst of a new American war, modern musicians continue to experiment with politically fused music. Rappers, country singers and pop stars use their fame to spout opinions on the war, but in a different way from those who came before them.

According to journalist Jeff Chang in his article, “Is Protest Music Dead?” in the April 16, 2002 edition of Metro Silicon Valley, speaking out against war and the government has become increasingly difficult since the September 2001 attacks. Chang believes entertainers supporting American troops through their music get the nod from both the president of their record label along with the President of the United States. Those opposing President Bush and the war are less popular in the business and political world but are getting much more media coverage.

The American people are now left to decide which musicians are genuinely taking a stand for their political beliefs and which ones are simply jumping on the pro/anti-war bandwagons to push more albums at the masses.