Black History Music Lessons That Multi-Task

Rhythm instruments with civil rights leadersMusic was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement. And, teaching black history in music classes is a natural extension of elementary music lessons.  However, music teachers are always short on class time. The solution is using black history music lessons that multi-task. African American songs are a part of our country’s history. And, civil rights songs, especially spirituals, are some of my favorite genres.

Black History Music Lessons that Multi-Task

As music teachers, our primary tasks are to teach music reading and performance skills. Music reading should be integrated into every lesson. But, music also provides a perfect medium for teaching about culture.  Black history music lessons that teach and reinforce music reading skills AND provide attainable performance options while simultaneously teaching about black history are a WIN-WIN-WIN!

Black History Music Lessons Pair Naturally with Civil Rights Leaders

The song “Oh, Freedom” is a perfect pairing with a short biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. He grew up singing in the choir of his church. He knew the power of music to motivate and inspire others. He gave his life working to establish freedom and equal rights for everyone.

I can envision Rosa Parks sitting in her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama when I hear the song “I Shall Not be Moved.” Her quiet protest started the movement which made a profound change to her city and our nation.

Even children helped in the fight for civil rights. “This Little Light of Mine” works well with a short biography of six-year-old Ruby Bridges. Even though Ruby faced angry mobs as she walked to Willilam Frantz Elementary School each morning, she was not bitter. Instead, she prayed for the people who were protesting her attendance at the school.

Use Authentic African American Spirituals

I have come across a few decent newly composed pieces for black history month. However, I feel it is important to use authentic, African American spirituals. These songs have stood the test of time. They are singable AND they are a part of the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Oh, Freedom Song with rhythm instruments & Martin Luther King, Jr.    I Shall Not Be Moved Song with rhythm instruments and Rosa Parks    This Little Light of Mine with rhythm instruments

The Orff arrangements provided for these songs include differentiated music reading/performance activities for grades K-5. Each spiritual contains two unpitched and two pitched Orff accompaniment patterns. Song arrangements offer attainable performance options for younger students while challenging older students. Each lesson has a primary & intermediate version of a “spotlight” on a civil rights leader.

Spirituals & Civil Rights Songs Know No Season

In January, we celebrate the birthday and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In February, we focus on Black History Month. But, spirituals and songs of the civil rights movement really know no season. These songs can and should be used all year long. Black history music lessons that multi-task are always in season.

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