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Bob Dylan, the black advocate
His compositions have actively fought against racism
An emblematic music personality, Bob Dylan’s works have had a huge impact on the American society. In the 60s and 70s, his songs denounced segregation, racially motivated crimes and the iniquity of the justice system. Afrik-news.com highlights the singer’s past engagements in the wake of his new album, Together Through Life.
After more than forty years in the music industry and with some thirty albums to his name as well as one hundred concerts each year, Bob Dylan is a sure bet. Among his merits are his label, which is a regular alternative source (too regular) to millions of disc enthusiasts, a 2007 Hollywood movie in his honor and finally, but certainly not the least, a Pulitzer Prize last year. These achievements serve as a reminder to his meteoric beginning...
America was in turmoil when he first appeared on the New York folk scene in the sixties. At the time, the civil rights movement was in full swing, with Martin Luther King as its leader advocating for an end to segregation. Bob Dylan threw his weight behind the movement while denouncing the poor state of affairs in Black communities. Needless to say, his politically oriented music won him a large success and following.
Dylan was present at the August 1963 march on Washington. Surprisingly, the podium that eternalized Dr. King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech is the same that shot Bob Dylan to fame. The young singer was invited to perform his song Blowin’ in the wind during the ceremony and has since been in the limelight.
Extract from Blowin’ in the wind
A few months earlier, an incident in Mississippi had moved him to write Oxford Town. White students had prevented a young black man, James Meredith, to attend university. The altercation escalated into riots, in which two people lost their lives.
Extract from Oxford Town
In the same year a member of the Ku Klux Klan shot down a black leader, Medgar Evers, sending shock waves through America. Dylan wrote the song Only a pawn in their game, in which he criticizes a racist State.
Extract by Only a pawn in their game
The following year, he took on the legal system when William Zanzinger, the murderer of a black waitress, was sentenced to only six months in prison. He composed the song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, in which he condemned the leniency of juries when faced with white offenders.
Extract from The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
As a result of these songs, the songwriter was quickly labeled "protest singer". He then moved away from protest-songs and left the social scene, thereby leaving his fans with a sense of betrayal. It was not until the early seventies that he made a comeback to his engaging compositions once more.
George Jackson, Rubin Carter
Soon after George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party, was killed in a prison in California, in August 1971, Dylan wrote a song to pay tribute to him. The song, released as a single, reached the 30th position on the Top 50 U.S.
Extract from George Jackson
A few years later, the singer took the side of Rubin Carter, a boxer, who was imprisoned after being condemned on a triple murder charge. Dylan, convinced of his innocence and persuaded he had been convicted by a racist jury composed an 8 minute song, Hurricane, in July 1975. The song made it to the top 50, which led to the rediscovery of the story by the media in hurricanic proportions responsible for a retrail of the case. Carter was retried and sentenced a second time but finally released in 1985.
Extract from Hurricane