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SAY IT LOUD: THE RISE OF BLACK PRIDE

ESSENTIAL QUESTION

How did Social Soul reflect a new vision of African-American identity in the late 1960s and early 1970s?

OVERVIEW

Accompanying the musical and political changes in Soul music that took place as the 1960s moved forward into the 1970s was a profound shift in African-American identity. Whereas Motown artists had been groomed for mass consumption by white audiences in the mid-1960s, Soul artists increasingly embraced a style much more in sync with their African roots (and in many cases reflecting a more militant political view). These developments paralleled musical changes in which melody was to varying degrees made secondary to an emphasis on rhythm and groove, as it often was in traditional African musical forms. Together, these shifts were emblematic of the growing Black Pride movement, with its characteristic slogan, “black is beautiful.” This lesson looks at these social and musical changes, with a focus on James Brown and his seminal proclamation of black pride, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."


Roberta Flack, Quiet Fire Album Cover     |     Credit: epiclectic

VIDEO

IMAGES

OBJECTIVES

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The development of the “Black Pride” movement in the late 1960s
    • The musical contributions of James Brown
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Develop interpretive skills by analyzing song lyrics
    • Identify connections between artistic expression and the broader social and political context in which that expression occurs
    • Evaluate connections between style/fashion and the larger societal context in which it occurs
    • Common Core: Students will analyze and compare the structure of poems and lyrics  and how the purpose shapes the content and style of the text (CCSS Reading 5; CCSS Reading 6; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2)
    • Common Core: Students will relate the themes of the lyrics and poems to each other and to the "black pride" movement (CCSS Reading 9; CCSS Writing 2)

ACTIVITIES

Motivational Activity:

1. Show students these two images of Diana Ross and the Supremes, 1966 and The Last Poets, 1970.

 

2. Ask students to identify specific differences in the appearances of the people in the two pictures (clothing, hair style, demeanor, etc.). Explain to students that these are both musical groups. Ask them to discuss what type of audience they think each group is trying to appeal to.

3. Discuss briefly with students what they can conclude about how the people in each group view themselves.

4. Identify the two images for students.

Procedure:

  1. View the clip of Smokey Robinson discussing the influence of Motown and Berry Gordy’s insistence that the company make “music music,” not “black music.”
  2. Distribute Handout 1: Excerpt of Lyrics to "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" and play the video of Brown performing the song
  3. Discuss:
    • What is Brown trying to say in this song? Is he delivering the same message as Smokey Robinson? Would you consider this "music music," not "black music"? Why or why not?
    • Whom do you think is the target audience for this song? How might your reaction to the song in 1968 have differed depending on whether you were black or white?
    • How would you describe the song musically? What is more important, the melody, the rhythm, or the lyrics?
    • Why might Brown have chosen to present this song in a way that emphasizes rhythm over melody? How does the sound of the song connect with its message? 
  4. Distribute Handout 2: Biography of James Brown. Ask for volunteers to read it aloud, alternating by paragraph. Instruct students to underline key words and phrases as they follow. 
  5. According to the author, what effect did the release of “Say It Loud” have on Brown’s career? How did Brown react?
  6. Why do you think it was important for Brown to make this record? Why was it important for the African-American community at that time?
  7. Play the video James Brown, "Man to Man," and discuss:
    • How does the audience react when Brown says, "I'm a man, a black man, a soul brother?"
    • Does Brown seem to be conveying the same message that Smokey Robinson did in his interview? How is his message different?
    • What do you think Brown means by saying he is struggling against the old "colored man" and replacing him with a "black" man?  
    • How does Brown see his responsibility as an artist? Does he feel he has a particular responsibility to the African-American community? 
    • Based on the song, the reading, and the video, how would you summarize the way Brown feels about himself as an African American?  
  8. Play the video of the interview with singer Harry Belafonte in 1967 and discuss:
    • What is Belafonte's attitude toward the African-American community? How is his message similar to that of James Brown?
    • Do Brown and Belafonte see themselves purely as entertainers? Do they see themselves as people whose job it is to simply make music to entertain African Americans and whites alike?  How does being African American influence the way they see themselves and their roles in society?
    • How might the attitudes of Brown and Belafonte have been influenced by challenges to the Civil Rights movement and historical events between the early 1960s, when Motown and artists such as Smokey Robinson began recording, and the later 1960s, when dissatisfaction in the African-American community escalated into riots in places such as Los Angeles, California, and Newark, New Jersey, and the more militant political messages of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers became more popular? 
  9. Distribute Handout 3: Poetry Excerpts from Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni. Ask for a student volunteer to read each excerpt aloud.
  10. Ask students to identify thematic similarities between the poems and “Say It Loud.”
  11. Ask students what they notice about the language and style of the two poems, as well as the language and style of the lyrics to “Say It Loud.” What do they conclude these stylistic choices say about African-American self-expression?

Summary Activity:

Show students the same picture of Diana Ross and the Supremes from 1966 as shown in the motivational activity. Then show a picture of Ross from 1968, sporting a large afro. What broad conclusions can they draw from this dramatic change in Ross's look?

 

Writing Prompt:

What were the major themes of "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud"? Pick one (or more) of the poems and compare the approaches James Brown and the authors take in addressing those themes. Relate the texts to the history of the Black Pride movement of the 1960s.

Extensions:

  1. Have students further investigate James Brown's involvement with economic development in the African-American community in the late 1960s and early 1970s. View the video James Brown, "Role as an Artist," and discuss why it was important to Brown to become directly involved with these efforts, and evaluate the effectiveness of these projects.  
  2. Ask students to further research the work of poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka. They may begin with a 1965 television interview with Baraka, in which he discusses his ideas about the condition of the African-American community in the United States.

STANDARDS

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • Writing 2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.

  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.

  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.