Back to School Featured Artist/Activist: Ken Giles and Shepherd Elementary

Songs of Freedom & Justice

150 Years of American History

“Music can change history.  Anti-slavery songs inspired people to escape from slavery by giving coded messages.  Union songs helped give workers courage to join together and get better working conditions.  “Strange Fruit” raised national awareness of lynching and helped end it.  “We Shall Overcome” helped civil rights activists stick together even when threatened with violence.

The idea that songs can change our lives is at the core of “Songs of Freedom and Justice.”  This compilation takes us through 150 years of American History.  It shows how music reflects and teaches about the links between history, art, culture, and social movements.  It deals with serious topics and includes challenging songs.

I learned these songs over a lifetime of peace, human rights, and labor activism.  I want to pass on these songs, and their rich social meaning, to a younger generation facing their own historic challenges.  I created a full length performance project that tells a narrative of American history, where students portray historic characters and sing the songs.  Over 300 students at Shepherd Elementary School, where I teach music have performed the program, embracing it with enthusiasm and educational zeal.” – Ken Giles, Music Teacher

In February 2009, Shepherd Elementary School performed Songs of Freedom and Justice together with the DC Labor Chorus.  You can by a copy of the CD by clicking here.

Or listen to a few tracks:

1850’s-1860’s: Anti-Slavery

Steal Away – Sojourner Truth

1880’s-1930’s: Pro Union

We Shall Not Be Moved – Lucy Parsons

1960’s-Present: Civil Rights; Women’s Movement; Human Rights

Ella’s Song – Ella Baker and Bernice Reagon

To see the entire script: Click here