The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles will present an updated edition of its first exhibit, “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom,” which is set to run from Jan. 15 to May 8, 2022.
The exhibit, which was first on display when the Grammy Museum opened in 2008, examines the role music has played in inspiring social consciousness throughout American history. It has been updated to include the Black Lives Matter movement, songs informed by the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and how such artists as H.E.R., Mickey Guyton and Dave Specter continue the tradition of using music as a catalyst for social change.
“‘Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom’ returns to the Grammy Museum at a particularly relevant time,” said Bob Santelli, founding executive director and exhibit curator, in a statement. “Although socially and politically conscious songs have healed and inspired generations throughout our history, it feels especially significant to showcase the power of song as a unifying force and agent of change in the midst of America’s current struggles for equality.”
“Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom” will include a newly expanded section, “The Sounds of Los Angeles,” that explores Los Angeles-based social movements and events that have inspired protest songs spanning a variety of genres and communities, from the Chicano movement that formed during the 1960s and 1970s to what a press statement refers to as “the city’s history of poverty and economic disparity, gang violence, and police corruption.” Featured artists include Lalo Guerrero, Mark Guerrero, Frost, Motown star Kim Weston, Randy Savvy of Compton Cowboys and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
The challenge in presenting such material is that people view these events through different prisms, based on their life experience. People sometimes can’t even agree on language. This is reflected in the press statement’s reference to “the 1965 Watts Riots/Rebellion” and “the 1992 Riots/Uprising.”
“Los Angeles’ connection to the creation of socially conscious music is undeniable,” said Nicholas Vega, Grammy Museum curator and director of exhibitions. “In this newly expanded section, the Grammy Museum partnered with a number of local artists to shine light on the community-based movements that have impacted the city’s identity and history, and inspired the creation of socially and politically charged music.”
“Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom” will also include “Song Spotlights,” individual video displays that feature artists talking about socially conscious songs that are important to them. Andra Day discusses Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit,” which she sang in her Oscar-nominated performance in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Noel Paul Stookey recalls Bob Dylan‘s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which his trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, turned into a 1963 pop smash. Ziggy Marley discusses his father Bob Marley‘s song “Get Up, Stand Up,” a highlight of The Wailers’ 1975 album, Burnin’.
Other exhibit highlights include:
Woody Guthrie‘s Tenor Banjo (May Bell) used during the “Woody and Lefty Lou” radio show in the 1930s.
Handwritten lyrics to “I Can’t Breathe,” which won a Grammy as song of the year in March, and the Martin LX1 Little Martin Acoustic guitar used by H.E.R. to write the song (in collaboration with D’Mile and Tiara Thomas).
John Mellencamp‘s Gibson Dove Acoustic guitar with “F–k Fascism” written on it.
Stevie Van Zandt‘s Guild electric guitar used during the recording of “Sun City,” the 1985 song that he wrote which became a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the all-star collective Artists Untied Against Apartheid.
Handwritten lyrics to “The Ballad of George Floyd” written by Specter.
Custom dress worn by Guyton during her performance of “Black Like Me” at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in March 2021. Her recording of that song made her the first Black female solo artist to receive a Grammy nomination (best country solo performance). Naeem Khan designed the dress.
Original flyer from the “First Ever Chicano Rock Concert” held at Cal State LA in 1972.
For more information regarding advanced ticket reservations and the Museum’s new safety protocols, visit GrammyMuseum.org.