1. Project a map illustrating African-American population change in the U.S. between 1940 and 1970. Explain to students that this period was known as the second wave of the Great Migration, a term referring to the massive internal migration of Blacks from the rural American South to urban centers in other parts of the country. During this time span, an estimated 5 million blacks left the South. Ask the students:
- Which areas of the map show an increasing black population?
- Which areas show a decreasing black population? Which states and cities experienced large African-American population gains? [Please note: Students may identify that Dallas and Houston, both located in the South, experienced a population gain during this time. This reflects how the Great Migration also signaled a shift of African-Americans moving from rural areas to urban centers.]
2. As a class, locate Detroit, Michigan on the map. Next, display the graph titled “Change in Detroit’s Black Population (1940 – 1970).” Ask the class:
- What trend do you notice in the African-American population of Detroit between 1940 and 1970?
- What do you think were some of the reasons why African-Americans left rural areas for industrial cities during this time? [Answers may include: to look for employment opportunities as the work force became more mechanized, to seek a better quality of life, to leave behind racial injustice in the rural areas, including “Jim Crow” laws that remained in effect in some areas into the 1960s, etc.]
3. Explain to the students that Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942. In 1946, her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, accepted a position as pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan.
Imagine moving to a new city, such as Detroit, during the Great Migration. What role might a spiritual center, like a church, play in your life? How might a major move inspire a feeling of dislocation, or a desire to connect with others? [Answers may include that in addition to spiritual guidance, a church can provide a strong sense of community, you may feel united in music and faith with other congregants, etc.]
4. Explain to the students that although Aretha Franklin came to be known for her career as a Soul singer, Gospel music played a significant role in her upbringing. As a girl, each week Aretha sang in the New Bethel Baptist Church with her siblings. Play the video clip titled
Aretha Franklin and Gospel Influences
, excerpted from a 1968 ABC News special. As students watch the clip, ask them to take notes about the ways in which Gospel music is described in the video. [Answers may include that Gospel music has a religious or spiritual feeling, Gospel singing is described as “uninhibited expression,” it is a tradition in Southern black churches that was brought to the North and Midwest with the Great Migration, etc.]
5. Play the 1968 clip of the New Bethel Baptist Choir performing “
The Lord is Blessing Me
.” While they watch, students should write down any descriptive words or phrases that they associate with this performance and the Gospel tradition. Poll the class for their reflections on Gospel music and list student responses on the board.
6. Divide students into small groups of 3-4 and distribute Handout: Gospel Music History and Glossary. Each student group should read through the handout aloud, alternating paragraphs.
7. In their groups, students will watch a video clip of Aretha Franklin performing ”
Chain of Fools
” in 1968. Groups should discuss the following questions:
- Why might “Chain of Fools” be considered a secular Soul song, as opposed to a Gospel song? [Answers may include: because the song’s lyrics are not religious in nature or because it is not being performed during a church service.]
- Although this song is not religious, what possible Gospel influences can you hear in Aretha’s performance of “Chain of Fools”? Have groups share out their answers with the class. [Answers may include a call-and-response dynamic between Aretha Franklin and her backup singers, Aretha’s powerful vocal delivery, etc.]
8. Read aloud the following quote by Dick Gregory, “You’d hear Aretha three or four times an hour, you’d only hear King on the news.” In their groups, students will examine the “Chain of Fools” Timeline. Groups should discuss:
- What do you think Dick Gregory meant by his quote?
- Why do you think Aretha’s success as a performer was significant in the late 1960s? [Answers may include that sometimes music may reach an audience in ways an activist, even one as powerful as Dr. King, could not. With the right song and the right performance at the right time, perhaps Aretha embodied the spirit of a late 1960s fight for racial and gender equality.]
9. Tell the groups that they will work together to compose a short call-and-response refrain. Although their compositions should be secular, remind students that the call-and-response style of singing is an integral part of the Gospel tradition. When sung between a lead vocalist and the congregation, a call-and-response section can foster a sense of community through music.
In their refrains, students must include a “call” (a vocal phrase) and a “response” (a vocal phrase or rhythm the group can reply with). If the students are looking for topics, you could suggest a current event or community issue that students want to address. The call-and-response refrain should be performed over a steady beat, or if possible, using the chords to “Chain of Fools” (Cmi or Emi).
10. Invite student groups to perform their call-and-response refrains with the class; the entire class should take part in the “response” sections. After all the groups have performed, discuss how the call-and-response refrains, although not religious, still utilized a Gospel music tradition to create a strong connection between the vocalist and the audience. Ask students: How was this exercise similar to Aretha Franklin’s recording of “Chain of Fools”?
11. Have the students reflect on the following prompt and respond by writing a one-page journal entry: The emerging Soul sound of the 1960s had close ties to Gospel music and brought black culture into mainstream American life. Why was this important during the 1960s? Why might it still be important today?