Music That Changed of History and Still Resonates

Half a dozen legislators sat a few feet away, beneath the crystal chandeliers of the East Room of the White House, as Bob Dylan sang “The period They Are A-Changin’,” poker-faced. Come senators, congressman, please listen the call,” he rasped. “Don’t place in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.” His tone was rough but nearly wistful; he had turned his old exhortation into an autumnal waltz. Afterward, he stepped backstage and shook President Obama’s hand.

It was not lost on anybody that Mr. Obama is America’s first African-American president. “The civil rights group was a movement sustained by music,” Mr. Obama said in opening remarks. The music, he said, “Was inspired by the movement and gave power in return.”

If any music can maintain to have changed history, it was the songs of the civil rights movement. Rooted in the hymns, gospel and rustic ballads of the southland they set out to change, civil rights songs detained a moral high ground with their melodies as well as their words.

The lyrics followed through with the eloquence of sermons and slave songs, transform them into both current agitprop and long-term bulwarks of resolve — songs like “Eyes on the Prize,” which Mr. Mellencamp, after reminisce about the teenage African-American bandmate who taught him how to sing and dance, turned into aggressive slide-guitar rock.

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