As we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, it’s a good time to think about how you can celebrate Black History Month (February) in your music classroom!
An excellent series depicting the history of African-Americans is “Walking in the Light of Freedom,” from Hal Leonard Publishing. There are three equally good books in this series:
Volume I tells how African-Americans communicated during slavery times by way of Spiritual Songs. They used these songs to comfort each other and to keep them going through the horrible treatment they had to endure. Some of these songs are “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit” and “My Lord What a Morining“. Also, the Spiritual became a way that the slaves let each other know if it was safe to go the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom by using mask and symbol. An example of a mask and symbol song is “Steal Away”, “Get On Board” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot“. In these songs the word “steal”, for example, meant run away and “Jesus,” the Northern part of the U.S. or Canada. These songs helped many African-Americans escape the bonds of slavery.
Volume II tells about the Folklore and Plantation Songs that were sung during planting and harvesting season. One of the most famous Folklore songs is “John Henry,” about a real man who was a steel-driver for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Some of the better known Plantation Songs are “I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad” and “Shortenin’ Bread“.
Volume III tells of the songs that were sung just for entertainment and family fun! Some of these familiar songs are “Old Blue“, “I Bought Me a Cat”, “Skip To My Lou” and “Blue-Tailed Fly“.
These volumes are exceptional by themselves or as a series. The stories in each volume are very educational and include a detailed history of the songs and their meanings.
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