Vickroy: Students learn that music is message
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy May 29, 2013 9:20PM
Eisenhower High School student Kaylah Bryant talks about John Fogerty and CCR during a class project regarding lyrics at her school in Blue Island, Illinois, Friday, May 10, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
More songs that influenced or reflected history:
“What’s Going On?” Marvin Gaye
“Battle of New Orleans” Johnny Horton
“Buffalo Soldier” Bob Marley
“Ohio” Crosby, Stills and Nash
“Blowin’ in the Wind” Bob Dylan
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” Toby Keith
“Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” Alan Jackson
“Fight the Power” Public Enemy
“Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” Indigo Girls
Updated: July 1, 2013 6:19AM
For what it’s worth, only a fortunate son could fight the power on the eve of destruction.
No, you don’t have to be a Baby Boomer to know what that means.
Music has long been a messenger of sentiment — giving issues such as racism, poverty and unfairness a beat and lyrical poignancy.
It has been a way for generations, cultures and the oppressed to express themselves politically and emotionally to mass audiences. It’s also a reflection of its times.
In John Duckhorn’s U.S. history class at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, music is an opportunity to work song lyrics, a primary source, into a history lesson.
For the past 12 years, since a student presented the idea of incorporating his love for Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me” into a history project, Duckhorn has assigned students in his junior-level history class what seems to be a labor of love: Present a report on how music influenced history or vice versa.
Each student focuses on a particular song and presents his or her findings to the class.
Kaylah Bryant was given “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“John Fogerty wrote the song,” she told her classmates. “It is the thoughts of a man being drafted to fight in the (Vietnam) war.”
Fogerty, she said, was among the many drafted into service. He noticed a dark trend among those who served — 76 percent of the roughly 9 million who fought in American wars since the draft was enacted hailed from the lower or working classes.
“Fortunate Son” was written and released in 1969, Kaylah said. It was meant to protest the friendship of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower, children of presidents Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower (for whom the high school is named).
Because of his family’s privileged standing, David Eisenhower didn’t have to worry about being drafted, Kaylah said. Less fortunate young men faced a different fate.
Anger at the unfairness comes through in the song’s music and lyrics.
“Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer More! more! more! yoh.”
The song was among a number of war protest hits that helped to mobilize the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States. Such music greatly impacted history, Duckhorn said.
The project has had an effect on Kaylah as well.
“I now look at all lyrics with a critical eye,” she said. “Songs are more than just entertainment.”
Monae Williams was assigned Sam Cooke’s song, “A Change is Gonna Come,” which deals with segregation during the 1950s and ’60s. She told the class how Cooke had experienced separation of whites and blacks firsthand and felt compelled to put those feelings to music.
“I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.”
Monae said Cooke was an “advocate for change and for hope.” She also told the class about the influence of the rise of Motown Records on racism and social injustice.
Afterward, she said, “Now I know there were many songs that have meaning, there was a purpose for writing them.”
In addition to reflecting the times, Monae said, songs often influenced people to want to do the right thing.
But not all music sparks protest. Some songs mobilized people to support ongoing policy.
Amani Abdelqader did her project on the song “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Robin Moore. Sadler was recovering from battle-related injuries in 1966 when he wrote the song to honor his fellow troops, she said.
“He idolized the troops in Vietnam,” Amani said.
The song became one of the fastest-selling ballads that RCA Records had seen.
In glorifying the elite class of soldiers, Sadler wrote:
“Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret.”
Duckhorn asked the class, “If you’re a high school student in 1966 and you turn on the radio and this song comes on, what does this do to your interest in the Vietnam War?”
A student answered, “It motivates you in a way. It makes you think the war is a good thing.”
This illustrates how music reflects the mood of its time period. In 1966, support for the war was at its highest, but by 1969 things had changed dramatically, Duckhorn said.