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Here Is Your Black History Month Soundtrack

The black experience in America has long been immortalized in music, spanning genres and centuries. This playlist is an aural walk through black American history from slavery to the present day.

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Note: Given the vast amount of music this post covers, this list is in no way complete or cohesive. Is your favorite missing? Add it in the comments!

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Religion and song worked hand in hand to fortify American slaves through years of dire conditions. The will to continue on, whether working on a plantation or running away from one, was found in songs like "This Little Light of Mine" and "Go Down, Moses."

Emancipation was merely the first chapter in the struggle for black equality. Spirituals were replaced with the blues — songs that dealt often with poverty, racism, and domestic violence.

• Various, "Go Down, Moses" (1872)

• John & James Johnson, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (1900)

• Various, "Wade in the Water" (1901)

• Various, "This Little Light of Mine" (1920)

• Bessie Smith, "Poor Man's Blues" (1928)

• Fats Waller, "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue" (1929)

• Various, "Oh, Freedom" (1931)

• Various, "Eyes on the Prize" (1937)

• Lead Belly, "The Bourgeois Blues" (1939)

• Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit" (1939)

• Josh White and his Caroliners, "Trouble" (1940)

• Louis Jordan, "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (1949)

• Paul Robeson, "No More Auction Block for Me" (1947)

• Chuck Berry, "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (1956)

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The 1960s brought with it a thirst for change and soon gave birth to the civil rights movement. Blacks across the country met in churches to organize, and when they left their pews to march for freedom, they took their songs with them. Secular music mingled with gospel and boldly took up the cause of freedom.

• Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach, "Freedom Day" (1960)

• Various, "We Shall Overcome" (1963)

• Charles Mingus, "Freedom" (1963)

• John Coltrane, "Alabama" (1963)

• Martha And The Vandellas, "Dancing in the Street" (1964)

• Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (1964)

• The Impressions, "Keep On Pushin'" (1964)

• Nina Simone, "Mississippi Goddam" (1964)

• The Impressions, "People Get Ready" (1965)

• Nina Simone, "Four Women" (1966)

• Sam & Dave, "Soul Man" (1967)

• The Impressions, "We're a Winner" (1967)

• Jimi Hendrix, "The Star Spangled Banner" (1967)

• James Brown, "Say It Loud" (1968)

• Aretha Franklin, "Think" (1968)

• Aretha Franklin, "Respect" (1968)

• Sly & The Family Stone, "Everyday People" (1968)

• Richie Havens, "The Klan" (1968)

• Syl Johnson, "Is It Because I'm Black" (1969)

• Roberta Flack, "Compared to What" (1969)

• Edwin Star, "War" (1969)

• Gladys Knight & The Pips, "Friendship Train" (1969)

• Diana Ross & The Supremes, "Shadows of Society" (1969)

• Donny Hathaway, "The Ghetto" (1969)

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As the civil rights movement gave way to the black power movement, calls for self-determination and black pride filled the air. Tired of waiting for validation, soul and funk artists like James Brown and Aretha Franklin encouraged black folks to respect themselves and demand it from others.

• Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, "I Should Be Proud" (1970)

• Curtis Mayfield, "Move On Up" (1970)

• Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970)

• Jimi Hendrix, "Machine Gun" (1970)

• Curtis Mayfield, "If There's a Hell Below" (1970)

• Nina Simone, "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" (1970)

• Roy Ayers, "Pretty Brown Skin" (1970)

• Gil Scott-Heron, "Whitey on the Moon" (1970)

• Curtis Mayfield, "Miss Black America" (1970)

• The Last Poets, "When The Revolution Comes" (1970)

• The Last Poets, "Black Is" (1971)

• Marvin Gaye, "What's Goin' On" (1971)

• The Chi-Lites, "Give More Power to the People" (1971)

• Marvin Gaye, "Mercy, Mercy, Me" (1971)

• The Temptation, "Ball of Confusion" (1971)

• Sly & The Family Stone, "Thank You For Talkin' to Me Africa" (1971)

• Syreeta, "Black Maybe" (1972)

• The O'Jays, "Love Train" (1972)

• Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack, "Be Real Black for Me" (1972)

• Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, "Get Up Stand Up" (1973)

• The Isley Brothers, "Ohio/Machine Gun" (1973)

• Stevie Wonder, "Living for the City" (1973)

• Bill Withers, "I Can't Write Left-Handed" (1973)

• Donny Hathaway, "Someday We'll All Be Free" (1973)

• Stevie Wonder, "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (1974)

• Death, "Politicians In My Eyes'" (1974)

• Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson, "A Toast to the People" (1974)

• Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, "Wake Up Everybody" (1975)

• The Isley Brothers, "Fight The Power" (1975)

• Stevie Wonder, "Black Man" (1976)

• Bob Marley & The Wailers, "Them Belly Full" (1975)

• Sister Sledge, "We Are Family" (1979)

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The 1980s were plagued with crack wars, poverty, and police brutality. Though Jim Crow was (technically) dead, life was still tough, and acts like N.W.A and Ice-T loaded their lyrics and took aim at America.

• Bob Marley, "Redemption Song" (1980)

• Bob Marley, "Could You Be Loved" (1980)

• Grandmaster Flash, "The Message" (1982)

• Deniece Williams, "Black Butterfly" (1984)

• Afrika Bambataa, "Renegades of Funk" (1984)

• Fishbone, "Party at Ground Zero" (1985)

• The Specials, "Free Nelson Mandela" (1986)

• Boogie Down Productions, "Criminal Minded" (1986)

• Run DMC, "Proud to Be Black" (1986)

• Janet Jackson, "Control" (1986)

• The King Dream Chorus & Holiday Crew, "King Holiday" (1986)

• Bad Brains, "I Against I" (1986)

• Michael Jackson, "Man in the Mirror" (1987)

• N.W.A, "Fuck Da Police" (1988)

• Public Enemy, "Don't Believe The Hype" (1988)

• Tracy Chapman, "Behind the Wall" (1988)

• N.W.A, "Straight Outta Compton" (1988)

• Tracy Chapman, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" (1988)

• Ice-T, "Colors" (1988)

• Public Enemy, "Fight the Power" (1988)

• Stop the Violence Movement, "Self Destruction" (1989)

• KRS One, "You Must Learn" (1989)

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Though gangsta rap's heyday spanned well into the '90s, it was countered by a wave of music that echoed the black nationalism of the '60s and '70s, calling for black solidarity, education, and social consciousness. Public Enemy told everyone to "Fight the Power," and Salt-N-Pepa preached sexual responsibility with songs like "Let's Talk About Sex."

• Salt-N-Pepa, "Let's Talk About Sex" (1990)

• Ice Cube, "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" (1990)

• Public Enemy, "911 Is a Joke" (1990)

• Public Enemy, "Burn Hollywood Burn" (1990)

• Tupac, "Brenda's Got a Baby" (1991)

• Arrested Development, "People Everyday" (1992)

• Ice Cube, "It Was a Good Day" (1992)

• Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)" (1992)

• KRS One, "Sound of Da Police" (1993)

• Tupac, "Holler If Ya Hear Me" (1993)

• George Clinton, "Paint the White House Black" (1993)

• Queen Latifah,"Unity" (1993)

• Digable Planets, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" (1993)

• Outkast, "Git Up, Git Out" (1994)

• Body Count, "Cop Killer" (1994)

• Black Men United, "You Will Know" (1994)

• Tupac, "Me Against The World" (1995)

• Various Artists, "Freedom (Theme From Panther)" (1995)

• Michael Jackson, "Earth Song" (1995)

• Michael Jackson, "They Don't Really Care About Us" (1996)

• Nas feat. Lauryn Hill, "If I Ruled the World" (1996)

• TLC, "Waterfalls" (1996)

• De La Soul, "Sunshine" (1996)

• The Roots, "What They Do" (1996)

• Black Star, "Brown Skin Lady" (1997)

• Black Star, "Thieves in the Night" (1997)

• Outkast, "Da Art of Storytellin' Pt. 1" (1998)

• Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (1998)

• Lauryn Hill, "Everything Is Everything" (1998)

• Tupac, "Changes" (1998)

• TLC, "No Scrubs" (1999)

• Dead Prez, "It's Bigger Than Hip Hop" (1999)

• Mos Def, "Rock n Roll" (1999)

• Mos Def, "Mathematics" (1999)

• Mos Def, "New World Water" (1999)

• Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga" (1999)

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Today's music is still very concerned with the preservation and protection of black life in America. Artists like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu sang the merits of loving one's blackness and a right to be seen, respected, and defended, a message that persists through the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

• Common, "Song for Assata" (2000)

• Reflection Eternal, "Africa Dream" (2000)

• Reflection Eternal, "Four Women" (2000)

• Dead Prez, "Propaganda" (2000)

• Angie Stone, "Brotha" (2001)

• Talib Kweli, "Get By" (2001)

• India Arie, "Video" (2001)

• India Arie, "Brown Skin" (2001)

• Nas, "One Mic" (2001)

• Nas, "I Can" (2002)

• Erykah Badu, "Penitentiary Philosophy" (2003)

• Aceyalone, "Miss Amerikkka" (2003)

• Saul Williams, "The Pledge (Not in Our Name)" (2003)

• Mos Def, "War" (2004)

• Jill Scott, "Golden" (2004)

• The Roots, "Star" (2004)

• Saul Williams, "Black Stacey" (2004)

• Mos Def, "Fake Bonanza" (2006)

• India Arie, "I Am Not My Hair" (2006)

• Lupe Fiasco feat. Jill Scott, "Daydreamin'" (2006)

• Mavis Staples, "Eyes on the Prize" (2007)

• Reflection Eternal, "Ballad of the Black Gold" (2010)

• Big K.R.I.T., "Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism" (2011)

• Killer Mike, "Reagan" (2012)

• Kanye West, "New Slaves" (2013)

• Janelle Monae, "Q.U.E.E.N" (2013)

• Kendrick Lamar, "I" (2014)

• J. Cole, "Be Free" (2014)

• John Legend feat. Common, "Glory" (2014)

• D'Angelo, "The Charade" (2014)

• D'Angelo, "'Til It's Done" (2014)

Listen to the songs below.

embed.spotify.com

Note: Not every song listed is available on Spotify.

Is your favorite song missing from the lists above? Mention it in the comments!

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