Grade: High

Essential Question

How did the Beatles take a stand against segregation while touring America? And what did it mean for popular music culture?


In this lesson, students learn about the Beatles active stance against segregation and consider what the band’s example meant for an emerging youth culture.

The members of The Beatles grew up in Liverpool in the north of England. From the time the band formed, they were students of African-American music, such as American Rhythm and Blues, Southern Soul, Motown, and more. The “covers” (songs not written but recorded by The Beatles) included on their early records were predominantly songs made famous by African-American artists. Likely because of this respect for African-American music and their opposition to segregation, when The Beatles toured America their contracts stated explicitly that they would not perform for segregated audiences. For those who saw the group as nothing more than a “teen phenomenon,” it was a lesson in how artists can stand up for their beliefs and help to change the world they live in.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • About segregation, Jim Crow laws in the American South, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • The complexities of race relations in 1960s America
    • How The Beatles used their position to take a stand in relation to American segregation
    • How The Beatles’ sound was influenced by African-American music
    • About “Beatlemania” as a social and cultural phenomenon
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Make connections between popular music and the social and political environment in which that music is created
    • Interpret how public reaction to popular music reflects the social norms and values of a particular historical era
    • Analyze historical materials to better understand relationships between the past and present
    • Make connections among political, legal and cultural developments


Motivational Activity:

  1. Ask your students and keep track of their responses on the board:
    • Who are The Beatles? What do you know about their success? Have you ever heard of “Beatlemania”?
  2. Now show Clip 1, “Beatlemania” and ask students:
    • How did the fans feel about The Beatles during Beatlemania?
    • Do you think this kind of celebrity gave The Beatles a unique social power? If so, what do you think could they do with it?
    • Can you think of any current musicians whose popularity gives them power to affect American society? Who? What did they do and what was the effect?


  1. Distribute Handout 1 – Segregation in the American South and read it out loud as a class. Ask your students:
    • How do you think segregation would have affected the lives of young people in the American South?
    • How do you think segregation affected The Beatles as young people growing up in England? (Remind your students that as young Liverpudlians, The Beatles would have had no real interactions with legislated segregation before visiting the U.S. Encourage your students to consider how not having segregation could affect their perceptions of black artists.)
    • Little Richard was a major influence on The Beatles’ music. They covered Richard’s songs “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally,” and the two groups played together in Europe before The Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. How do you think The Beatles’ love for Richard’s music would have affected their relationship to Richard as a person?
    • What do you think the White Citizens Council meant when it suggested that Rock and Roll would “mongrelize” America?
  2. Play Clip 2, “The Beatles Confront American Segregation,” and discuss with your class:
    • What was the situation The Beatles were facing in Florida?
    • What was The Beatles position on segregation?
    • If Jim Crow laws were still in effect at the time, what of significance were The Beatles doing relative to those laws?
  3. Explain to students that while The Beatles are considered among the 20th century’s most important composers, they began by “covering” the music of other artists. Distribute Handout 2 – Cover Songs and Group Sound. First, have the class look at the chart that shows how many of the group’s “covers” were associated with African-American artists. Ask your students:
    • How do you think playing “black music” affected the group’s feelings about African Americans in general?
    • What do you think The Beatles respect for African-American music might have meant to a young American fan at the time?
  4. Now read the second part of Handout 2, an excerpt of a New Musical Express article from February 1, 1963, a year before The Beatles’ first American performance, as a class.
    • What type of music does the author say The Beatles play?
    • What does Little Richard suggest that he hears in The Beatles’ sound in 1963?
  5. Replay Clip 2 and have your students focus on Dr. Kitty Oliver describing her experience as a young African-American Beatle fan in the American South. Ask students:
    • What do you think the Beatles represented to Dr. Oliver when she was a girl?
    • How do you think the Beatles’ stance against segregation affected Dr. Oliver’s view of the pop act’s unique power?
  6. Play Clip 3, “The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.” Tell your students that this nationally televised performance was watched by a record setting 73 million viewers, more than one third of the American population at the time. Discuss with your students:
    • What was Whoopi Goldberg’s reaction to The Beatles as a young woman?
    • How do you think Goldberg’s recollection of The Beatles seeming “colorless” differs from the White Citizen Council’s declaration that Rock and Roll would “mongrelize” America?
  7. Play Clip 4, The Beatles’ 1965 single “We Can Work It Out” from The Beatles 1 collection and display Handout 3: “We Can Work It Out” Lyrics. Ask your students:
    • What do you think this song is about? Could this song be about segregation? What else could you interpret this song to be about?
    • In what ways do you think the open-ended interpretation of “We Can Work It Out” might have affected the song’s power with listeners? (Encourage your students to consider that a song with a specifically focused message divides listeners into “for” or “against” camps, while “We Can Work It Out” allows listeners an interpretation that works for their beliefs.)

Summary Activity:

Ask your students:

  • How would you describe the impact Beatlemania had on America to someone who had not heard of the band?
  • What have you learned about the power of popular music?
  • Can you think of contemporary artists who have attempted to leverage their power as popular performers to enact social change?


Common Core State Standards

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

  • Reading 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone

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
  • Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

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
  • Theme 6: Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Theme 9: Global Connections
  • Theme 10: Civic Ideals and Practices

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

Analyze: Analyze the structure and context of varied musical works and their implications for performance

Enduring Understanding: Analyzing creators ‘ context and how they manipulate elements of music provides insight into their intent and informs performance

Essential Question: How do performers select repertoire?

Identify how cultural and historical context inform performances [MU: Pr4.2.6c]

Identity how cultural and historical context inform performances and result in different musical effects [MU:Pr4.2.8c]


Core Music Standard: Connecting

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

Enduring Understanding: Understanding connections to varied contexts and daily life enhances musicians ‘ creating, performing, and responding.
Essential Question: How do the other arts, other disciplines, contexts and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?

Demonstrate understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life. [MU:Cn11.0.6a, 7a, and 8a]

National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.4 Select industry-specific works and analyze the intent of the work and the appropriate use of media.
    A1.5 Research and analyze the work of an artist or designer and how the artist’s distinctive style contributes to their industry production.
    A1.7 Analyze and discuss complex ideas, such as distortion, color theory, arbitrary color, scale, expressive content, and real versus virtual in works of art.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A3.5 Analyze similarities and differences of purpose in art created in culturally diverse industry applications.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.2 Explore the role of art and design across various industry sectors and content areas.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.
    B8.3 Analyze the aesthetic principles that apply in a professional work designed for live performance, film, video, or live broadcast.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.

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