Emory Report
July 18, 2005
Volume 57, Number 35


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July 18, 2005
'Music of Social Change' event keeps torch lit, July 20

BY Katherine Baust

The event “Music of Social Change: Keeping the Torch Lit,” co-sponsored by Alternate ROOTS and the Friends of the Emory University Libraries, will be held on July 20, at 6 p.m. in Schatten Gallery of the Woodruff Library.

The evening will feature singing and storytelling, and guests will include John O’Neal, founding member of the Free Southern Theater; civil rights activists Hollis and Nayo Watkins; Atlanta musician, songwriter and activist Elise Witt; and Carlton Turner, hip-hop activist and program director of Alternate ROOTS.

According to Carolyn Morris, executive director of Alternate ROOTS, the program was inspired by the exhibition “Music of Social Change,” currently on view in Schatten Gallery. The exhibit uses images and sounds from the early 1900s to the 1970s to explore the relationship between music and social activism, particularly the music that emerged in the context of the civil rights movement. “The impetus for creating this exhibit was to bring to light the various ways that music has served as a mobilizing force for the African American Freedom Struggle. In this context, protest songs were not “hits” that were recorded and distributed within the channels of the music industry, but instead were “hits” that were written and performed by civil rights activists, and were disseminated broadly during the marches, sit-ins, protests, imprisonments and public broadcasts of freedom struggle events,” said Katherine Skinner, curator of the exhibit.

Morris said the collaboration came about because one of her organization’s members saw the exhibit and told her about it. She said that Alternate ROOTS wanted to get involved since the exhibit closely resembles their organization’s work. Morris noted that music is a regularly practiced art form for their organization, since whenever its members meet for an event they always open and close by singing together.

Alternate ROOTS was founded in 1976 at the Highlander Center in Tennessee by performing artists from around the Southeast. Its mission is to support the creation and preservation of original art which is rooted in a particular place, tradition and spirit while eliminating oppression and continuing the social justice work of the 1960s.

“Music was essential to the civil rights movement; it brought people together and made them see what they have in common instead of focusing on their differences,” Turner said. “A lot of hip-hop music today is perpetuating negative images, but on the flip side, there are hip-hop artists using music to unite and bring communities together like the small movement of songwriters did during the civil rights movement.”

“This exhibition affords us a great opportunity to collaborate with an organization in the local community by getting people together to explore the power of music in social change,” said Donna Bradley, coordinator for the Friends of the Emory University Libraries. “The event not just about singing the old songs. It’s about keeping the torch lit for the future.”

The Schatten Gallery exhibition, “Music of Social Change,” will run through July 31. “Keeping the Torch Lit” is free and open to the public.