THE SOUL OF 1971: RETHINKING UNDERSTANDINGS OF PROTEST MUSIC
1971 is not a year typically associated with protest in America: our focus is trained on more explosive years and events such as the civil rights protests in 1968, or the birth of the punk movement in 1977. Furthermore, histories of protest music overwhelming celebrate white, middle-class artists such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. However, African-American musicians in 1971 were creating politically coherent protest songs, rooted in African-American popular music styles rather than earnest, folk-inspired and guitar-based language. The conventional valorization of protests in 1968 and 1977 may thus reinforce a white supremacist understanding of counterculture and protest music. In examining the Isley Brothers song “Ohio/Machine Gun,” Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On, and Gil Scott-Heron’s song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” my goal is to illuminate our racialized understandings of protest music and to complicate standard notions of genre, gender, generation, and race in the year 1971.