Five Jazz Songs That Speak Of The Freedom Struggle

Jun 19, 2012
Originally published on June 20, 2012 9:36 am

Today, June 19, is a holiday known as Juneteenth — the oldest commemoration of slavery's end. Though the Emancipation Proclamation declared the freedom of slaves in Confederate states on Jan. 1, 1863, it was only on June 19, 1865 (months after Confederate forces had surrendered) that Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, to spread news of the war's end, and to enforce the proclamation in Texas. The date has since been noted in Texas and across the country as a celebration of African-American freedom and history, especially since the Civil Rights movement.

Jazz has always been one of the most important musical narratives of the African-American journey toward freedom in America. Emancipation did not mean equality for ex-slaves, and jazz, whose call to improvisation models the principles of freedom, has often documented the ongoing pursuit. Indeed, this year jazz musicians and educators Dr. Ronald Myers and Dr. Larry Ridley are illuminating African-American history within jazz by organizing a national Juneteenth jazz concert series.

Earlier this year, I spoke with pianist Jason Moran and bassist Christian McBride about how the "message in the music" charged social movements across the country. Artists such as Nina Simone, Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus anchored our discussions of what it meant to use one's craft as a means to evoke change, and what it means to be part of a continuum toward total emancipation. See what they and their fellow jazz luminaries have to impart: Here are five recordings, picked by five musicians, which represent the triumphs and tribulations within the freedom struggle.

Angelika Beener is a freelance journalist and blogs at Alternate Takes.

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