NPR Music Shares ‘We Insist: A Century Of Black Music Against State Violence’ Playlist

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This week’s edition of Saturday Stream continues to celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month with another playlist featuring the work of Black musicians. Today’s collection comes from NPR Music in the form of a playlist entitled, We Insist: A Century Of Black Music Against State Violence.

A different playlist highlighting Black musicians was planned for this week’s Saturday Stream that hopefully will be published later. But after NPR Music published the We Insist playlist and accompanying essays about the songs, it became time to stop and listen to others. The songs on the We Insist playlist were researched and chosen by Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter, professor at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music Shana L. Redmond, WBGO director of editorial content Nate Chinen, music reviewer Oliver Wang and NPR Music critic and correspondent Ann Powers.

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Presented chronologically, the playlist and essays are broken down into subsections: 1927–1963: Witness & Resistance, 1967–1985: Black Power, 1985–2012: Policing & Protest and 2014–2020: Black Lives Matter. A portion of the introduction to the essays reads:

The 50 songs discussed in this list often describe specific acts of police violence but they are not limited to that subject. Together they construct a kind of timeline of an ongoing movement within American music, stretching back more than a century. It is meant to be revelatory but not complete. The songs here take on some of the ugliest stories with which America — and, since it goes international, the world — has to reckon. They mourn the dead and fight for the living. Some are easy to identify as protest songs; others feel like a party. Many address police violence directly decades before that subject became a lodestone in hip hop. Some of these songs have been misinterpreted even when their messages are perfectly clear. All contribute to the history of Black people showing what America’s official histories would hide in plain sight: the destructiveness of white supremacy and the uprisings against it that are not only organized and political, but personal. Like music itself, this spirit of resistance takes many shapes, but has never been silenced. As [Amiri] Baraka said of [John] Coltrane, all you have to do is really listen.

The playlist begins with Sara Martin’s “Georgia Stockade Blues” from 1927 and concludes with Leon Bridges’ 2020 single, “Sweeter.” The 1927-1963 era also includes recordings by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lead Belly, Louis Jordan, John Coltrane and others. Some of the artists representing the 1967–1985 era include Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder and War.

Among the Black musicians chosen from the 1985–2012 era were Lauryn Hill, N.W.A., Rage Against The Machine, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spalding. The playlist’s 2014–2020 era is represented by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Terrace Martin and Vince Staples, among others.

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Head to NPR Music to read about and foster a stronger appreciation for the songs selected for the We Insist playlist.

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