Oftentimes, musicians create music to get their feelings and thoughts out, whether about love, current events, the environment or overcoming tribulations. This is why music can be so many things to people; inspiring, uplifting, soothing, rejuvenating, motivating and even transformative. The Frank Erwin Center was invited to attend The Civil Rights Summit’s Music and Social Consciousness discussion featuring Grammy Award-winning singer Mavis Staples and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Graham Nash and they shared their views on how music has shaped society by bringing social issues to the forefront.
The Civil Rights Summit took place April 8-10 at the beautiful LBJ Presidential Library on The University of Texas campus commemorating 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act. The Music and Social Consciousness discussion took place on the first day of the Summit with Bob Santelli, Executive Director, GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, acting as interviewer/moderator and began with an introduction by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Patty Griffin.
Full of spunk (and with a new knee) Staples took the stage first at the Music and Social Consciousness discussion. She shared her experiences growing up performing at churches, festivals and fighting for peace and love with her sisters and her dad “Pops” Staples. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a service her dad said, “If he can preach it, we can sing it.” To this day, Staples is still singing freedom songs and fighting for love and peace. Staples thought music was the fuel of the civil rights movement and gave people the courage to march. She believed music was a way to get the message to people in a way they could understand it. “If you sing it, bring in some truth and realism, it will move you and motivate you,” said Staples.
Graham Nash took this approach, interspersing songs with stories about how they came to fruition. He performed “Chicago,” “Ohio,” “Teach Your Children” and closed with a song written for his wife, “Here for You.” When asked about whether artists have a responsibility to write songs of consequence and deeper meaning he answered, “It’s a responsibility as a human being, not just as a musician. I have a responsibility to write about what bothers me. I don’t have a responsibility to anyone else.” He noted that music can make people think about things they might not think about on a regular work day. Nash described people as a small link in a beautifully long chain and even though it may take a while for a movement to be detected in one direction or another it can happen. “Once you drop a pebble in the pond and it spreads to the banks, it’s when it comes back to where you dropped the pebble [it] is most interesting,” said Nash.
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