History in Music: Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter, but if you read traditional history books, you might not come away knowing that. Musicians, however, have been singing about the Black experience in America for a long time. Whether you want to supplement your history lessons or do a mini music study on history in music, we’ve got a curated list of Black Lives Matters music and songs for you from the Civil Rights era. If you enjoy learning with these songs, there’s lots more music you can add to your song list.

More of an interdisciplinary study than a mini history course, listening to history in music songs helps kids to explore the many ways that history can be told artistically. Beyond the lyrics, look at the visual forms in the videos. What does the setting, costuming, and actions of the people in the video communicate in addition to the poetry of the words?

If you are new to literary analysis (yes, lyrics – especially rap lyrics with their complex rhyme schemes – are a form of poetry, which falls under the umbrella of literature) then it may be helpful to google “WHAT IS [song title] ABOUT?” You’ll find lots of easy-to-read posts to help you talk about the song with your kids.

Don’t forget to check out our other History in Music lists:

1. Billie Holliday: Strange Fruit

Read the lyrics to Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday

While the song is about the horrific history of lynchings, Strange Fruit offers your the opportunity to delve into euphemisms and why we use them when we talk of the horrors of death.

2. Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam

Read the lyrics to Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone

A song inspired by the tragic 1963 killings of 4 Black girls during a church bombing in Alabama.

3. Common: Glory

Read the lyrics to Glory by Common

Written for the movie soundtrack Selma, this song references the Civils Rights movement but also looks to the future with hope.

4. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On

Read the lyrics to What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

Written partly in response to his brother’s return from war, this song is a social commentary on the early 1970s.

5. Bruce Hornsby and The Range: The Way It Is

Read the lyrics to The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby

A song about the Civil Rights movement and the way things are in life. Is it hopeful or a sad commentary on complacency?

6. Tupac Shakur: Changes

Read the lyrics to Changes by Tupac

This song samples Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It Is and muses (in 1998) about what it would be like to have a Black American president.

8. Dr. Dre: The Day the Niggaz Took Over

Read the lyrics to The Day the Niggaz Took Over by Dr. Dre

Parental Advisory for the lyrics of this song, but if you can get past that, there’s a lot to dig into with this song.

9. Sublime: April 29, 1992

Read the lyrics to April 29, 1992 by Sublime

In 1992, Los Angeles was overtaken by riots after a Rodney King, a Black man, was videotapped being beaten by white police officers. This song reflects back on the white band member’s participation in the riots.

10. Lauryn Hill: Black Rage

Read the lyrics to Black Rage by Lauryn Hill

Ironically set to the tune of Sound of Music’s These Are a Few of My Favorite Things, you get a thoughtful laundry list of what justifies Black rage.

11. Childish Gambino: This is America

Read the lyrics to This is America by Childish Gambino

As a song about gun violence, the opening scene can be a much for younger kids. I do, however, highly recommend reading this excellent analysis of the song, especially as it explains the dancing you’ll see in the video.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.