Here we are again with a very interesting work, directly written from the students of the “Liceo Scientifico Statale Luigi Cremona“. Please find below the playlist that the 5C selected for this CLIL history class 2017/2018 (How music changed history: Blues, Jazz and Rock’n’Roll).
Elvis Presley – In the Ghetto
The song In the Ghetto, sung by Elvis Presley, was composed in 1969 by Mac Davis and it was originally titled The Vicious Circle, but it seemed to Davis that the desperation in the song was similar to the one in the wartime Jewish ghettos, so he changed it.
It is one of the few socially involved songs Elvis recorded, and it’s about a boy born in Chicago’s ghetto, forced by the circumstances to go down a path of criminality: “he learns how to steal, and he learns how to fight”, “he buys a gun, steals a car” – this will ultimately lead to his death.
The song is expressing a deterministic view of life: the boy had no way to escape his destiny, which was determined by the social environment he was born in. He could have had a different life only if someone had helped him (“The child needs a helping hand Or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day”). In the Ghetto is criticizing the indifference of the society of that time (“Do we simply turn our heads, and look the other way?”) towards black people; indifference and discrimination were what lead to the awful condition afro-americans lived in in the first place (people born in the ghetto were likely to become criminals just so they could survive), so that’s what needs to be changed in order to give black people more chances at having a normal life.
It’s interesting to underline that the song has a cyclic structure: it starts with a baby being born, and it ends in the same way (“Another little baby child is born in the ghetto, and his mama cries”). On one hand, the fact that this baby is born in the same moment when the boy dies could be seen as some kind of positive balance the universe is trying to restore; on the other hand, the new-born baby has the same destiny as the boy who died.
STELLA CANTELMI – GIOVANNI STAFFINI
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
Strange fruit is part of a group of the so called “ difficult songs ” .
From the singer to the lyrics, this song is absolutely different from any other one of its time.
Billie Holiday, daughter of two young artists, had a difficult childhood. She moved in New York and started a prostitute career to survive. She had drugs and alchool problems, but this never stopped her. She began her story with music between a brothel walls, where she could listen to Bessie Smith and Louis Amstrong. Her singer career started when se was 15 and at 18 a big producer ( John Hammond ) noticed her and sponsored her two first albums.
She was one of the first black singer working with white women and, even if she was forced to stay in the fitting room until her show and to use a diffrent door to get into the clubs, when she was singing everyone stopped and listen to her. Or at least, this used to happen when she was not playing Strange Fruit. This song had the ability to make people feel unconfortable and. it wasn’t always the feelings that the public wanted to speriment.
Strange fruit is diffrent from her other songs and it was so intense that became an anthem for black civil rights. Out in 1939, it told the real story about black people and their life
conditions. The strange fruit that gives the title to the song is the body of a black man killed
and hanged at a tree, which is a message and a symbol of the victims of racism in the south of the united states. In fact, even if it was forbitten by law, there were a lot of people murdered and the 80% of the victims of 1940 was black, certanly not a coincidence.
GAIA CHIERICHETTI – CHIARA FRANCHINI
John Coltrane – Alabama
John Coltrane was an acclaimed American saxophonist and composer that became an
iconic figure of jazz in the 20th-century. He turned the jazz’s world into the expression of the human need for answers: he used music to make sense of senseless acts.
“Alabama” is perhaps a masterpiece in this regard.
Coltrane wrote the song in response to the bombing that was planted by Ku Klus Klan
extremists in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham (Alabama); this tragic event
caused the death of four black girls between 11 and 14. Martin Luter King made a moving speech for these martyred children and Coltrane used King’s words as a basement for his song.
Both Coltrane’s music and King’s specchio are passionate, expressing or inducing sadness.
As Martin Luter King speech has a turning point becoming a statement of reniew
determination for the struggle against racism, “Alabama” changes his tone becoming a
Finally we think that “Alabama”s melody expresses both the sadness of that tragic event and the individual human injustice. Infact listening to “Alabama” and reading King’s words together is an incredibly moving experience.
GAIA GRIECO – AURORA MUSETTI
Mahalia Jackson – We shall overcome
“We Shall Overcome” is probably one of the most influent hymn of freedom among afro-american people but also for students who wanted their voices to be listened. This song became very famous and was sung all over the world by many important artists such as Joan Baez, Louis Armstrong, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia’s version was the most touching one considering that she sang it during Martin Luther King’s funeral that was a very important person to her and her people.
Due to her story she was strictly connected with this song, her voice was so moving and powerful that Dr. King Jr. himself had described her talent saying that: “A voice like this one comes not once in a century, but once in a millennium”.
Going through history this song has being changed by artists who decided to add or modify lyrics and structure. For instance, Pete Seeger gave his contribution by replacing the word “will” into “shall” in order to “make the mouth opened better”.
The roots of this song are not clear: it may come from Charles Tindley who composed a gospel song that contained the words “ I’ll overcome some day” or maybe from a following gospel song that says “deep in my heart I do believe/I’ll overcome some day”. Even if this song has ancient origins it become popular in 1960s thanks to Pete Seeger. However before the song broke through, it was an unofficial anthem of American Civil Rights Movement. It has had a social importance during the strike of 1946 in Charleston where a group of Afro-American tobacco workers were protesting for their rights. Thanks to the powerful meaning of this song, it was adopted not only by American students, indeed there is a Spanish version used by Galician students against the dictatorship in 1967-68. “We shall overcome” was also used as a rampart of civil rights by black people in South Africa against apartheid.
All in all, this song represents the voice of the whole African-American community that has struggled for ages. In particular it represents the hope for them to achieve freedom, which is an utopian outlook, that “SOME DAY” it will be utopian no more: Mahalia reminds every black people to continue the struggles and overcome this situation all together.
DAVIDE MAFFI – FRANCESCO RAINERI
Sam Cooke – A change is gonna come
The 1960s were years of poitical and cultural change in America, not only for the election of the first catholic president, who succeded in launching the first expedition to the moon, but mostly for the birth of the Civile Right Movement, which tried to affirm equality between black and white people using musicians’ creativity too. This is the story of many songs of that time, including “A change is gonna come” written by Sam Cooke and recorded in 1964.
Infact even if Sam Cooke is more famous for have been a play boy and for his strange death (occured when he was only thirty-three) rather than for his carrier, it’s important remember that he was sensitive to social problems and that “ A change Is gonna come” was inspired by a group of young black artist who hoped to raise awarness of their cause.
Here hope and pain coexists, because even if the string section soli at the beginning underlines how he has been struggled since he was “born by the river in a little tent” he doesn’t miss his optimistic dream of a real change.
Being considered as an answer to the questions posed by Bob Dylan in “Blowing’ in the Wind”, “A Change gonna come” recollets the frustration of all African Americans who has left their freedom since too much time and his personal Arrow for the death of his child.
ALESSANDRO MORLACCHI – MICOL ILARIA ROCCO
Woody Guthrie – This land is your land
This land is your land is a folk song written by Woody Guthrie. It was composed based on an existing melody in 1940 and then recorded and published only in 1944-45.
it’s considered like a national anthem by the people of the United States, singed by many famous artists like Bruce Springsteen or Lady Gaga, but what most of them do not know is that it was a kind of satiric response to Kate Smith’s hit “God bless America”, indeed the original title was “God bless America for me”. Guthrie had travelled a lot around his country during his youthness and had seen many violence, hunger and prejudice that had led him to think that the heavenly endorsement was still just a dream for the US; this is why he was so bothered by Smith’s that was always playing on the radios talking about a perfect country. He did not only change the title but also some verses, which sounded to angry and ironical, like “as they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me”.
In this song Guthrie puts together all the typical music of his childhood like church hymns, outlaw ballads, blues, fiddle tunes and popular music.
Personally, we do not enjoy too much this song because it sounds too country and monotonous; although we do like the lyrics and theirs modernity.
LUCA PISANI – LAURA SUSTA
Chuck Berry – Roll over Beethoven
The song “Roll Over Beethoven”; is one of the most successful tracks composed by Charles Edward Anderson Berry, mainly known as Chuck Berry. This single belongs to rock and roll genre and, like all the songs from this kind of music, it imparts a revolutionary message. In fact, this is a reaction to classic tradition and it is clearly visible in the title and in some of the lines, such as “Roll over Beethoven // And tell Tchaikovsky the news”. The novelty of this kind of music is underlined by the association of a great composer from the past with the word roll, which reminded the name of this genre. But this is not only a musical reference, because roll is one of the main actions made in dancing this kind of songs. Rock and roll typical dance is individual and based on the absence of particular steps. The freedom of movements and the new way to express the body stress how the revolutionary contents of this music are not limited to composition or musical instruments, but they have also a social dimension. In facts, in the fifties rock and roll becomes youngers genre thanks the subversive potential it communicates with the songs texts and stars’ behavior. In this
period the main attempt of new generations is to obtain freedom and have less social limits or rules than in the past, and rock reflected these ambitions. This concept also emerges in “Roll over Beethoven”, where Chuck Berry used an entire stanza to describe how a girl dances over his track.
Finally, it is possible to say that this famous song completely embodies the soul of rock, because it contains all the main characteristics of this genre and it even recognizes the origins of this music, as clearly as it emerges in the continuous references to blues.
FRANCESCO SGARRA – PAOLO VALVO