Sheridan Flietstra, Jacob Hespeler Secondary School Co-op Student | December 1, 2018
There has been much influential music throughout history, as well as many influential musicians.
Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Billie Holiday. All influential musicians who had something to say.
Musicians tend to put what they’re feeling into the lyrics that they write, and sometimes that isn’t what the general public wants to hear. Some of the most influential songs of all time became popular for going against what the general public thinks.
Take Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” for example. A protest song with resolute relevance, with lyrics that symbolize both the brutality and racism of lynching in the American South. This song has undergone and become a symbol directly relating to the racism, cruelty, pain, and suffering that has been endured by so many in the United States. This version of the song, the original, went on to become Time magazine’s “Song of The Century” in 1999.
The meaning behind that song is something that wasn’t touched on by mainstream media. Billie Holiday used this song to get a message that she found important further out into the world. She used her lyrics to make an impact. Her influence caused this song to rise in popularity, and for the message she was trying to convey to spread.
Influential music, though it may be popular, isn’t always regarded positively. John Lennon’s “Imagine” shows that. Imagine is widely regarded as Lennon’s signature song, as well as perhaps his best-known solo work. A famous quote from Lennon regarding the song is that the track is “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic…but because it’s sugar-coated, it is accepted.”
While the song's message of world peace and harmony widely resonated, and was given added attention after Lennon was assassinated in 1980, it has gone on to be disliked by many who see a conflict with a multi-millionaire asking others to imagine a life without possessions.
Another influential song that stands out to me is “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. This song was written to support the civil rights movement that was going on in the United States at the time. Cooke was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and he was determined to write something similar. A portion of the lyrics were inspired by an incident Cooke was involved in with a few of his friends. They were arrested for “disturbing the peace” after being denied rooms at a Louisiana motel. There are lyrics in the song that speak boldly about segregation. A few months after Cooke died, this song was released.
Controversy is a large part of the music industry. Whether it’s related to the lyrics or the artists. Sam Cooke wrote a very influential song; it spoke boldly about something he was passionate about. This song was released after his passing, and though there is much controversy surrounding his death, he was able to speak to a lot of people through his music.
This is only a small portion of influential music, as well as the musicians that created it. There have been so many incredible musicians throughout history, many of them influential in different ways. Music is a worldwide language. It speaks to everyone - you just have to be willing to listen.
If you’re interested in learning more about music through history, check out our program The Day the Music Died: 60 Years Later. You can watch and learn 50s dance moves, and join a lecture on rock ‘n’ roll history.