Photo: Josh Giroux
6 Things We Learned At The GRAMMY Museum's 'Songs Of Conscience, Sounds Of Freedom' Exhibit
'Songs Of Conscience, Sounds Of Freedom' returns after debuting as the first exhibition at the GRAMMY Museum’s opening in 2008, offering a deep dive into America’s long history of musical rebellion
The Songs Of Conscience, Sounds Of Freedom exhibit opened Jan. 15 at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles and is an inspiring must-see for music lovers of all ages. Covering over 250 years of American musical activism, the exhibit showcases songwriters and performers, including many under-sung heroes, who pushed culture and social justice forward through music.
Songs Of Conscience, Sounds Of Freedom was the debut exhibition at the then-brand new GRAMMY Museum in 2008. The 2022 edition offers a new section celebrating LGBTQIA+ and Black Lives Matter anthems, along with an expanded exploration into The Sounds of Los Angeles, an in-depth look at the city's musical activism from the '60s to today.
The current exhibit features a plethora of exciting memorabilia including handwritten lyrics, guitars and concert posters. There are a sizable number of video performances on view in the Clive Davis Theater, including eight moving GRAMMY performances of socially poignant songs. While perusing the exhibit, you'll hear a raucous playlist of songs featured in the exhibit, from H.E.R. and N.W.A to Bob Dylan.
Read on to get a taste of what you'll learn at this important, timely exhibit:
Socially Conscious Anthems Began Before The Country’s Founding
Before the United States of America was established in 1776, American songwriters wrote and sang songs against British colonial rule. Using traditional drinking, folk and military marching melodies, these songs flipped known lyrics for political statements. Everyday townspeople also took to the pen in this anti-British musical fervor, writing and printing their own lyrics — known as "broadsides" — and selling them on street corners. The earliest song cited at the exhibit, teacher Peter St. John's "American Taxation," protested the 1765 Stamp Act and was sung to the tune of the English marching song "The British Grenadiers."
Anti-War And Abolitionist Music Had Far-Reaching Influence
After the American Revolution, music protesting the Civil War, as well as anti-slavery songs by abolitionist composers, were popular throughout the country. A vital part of American musical history are the spirituals sung by enslaved peoples, which were coded with messages of freedom and liberation. These songs became the roots of many blues songs, which later influenced R&B and rock ‘n’ roll.
The well-known song "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is a Black spiritual often credited to Wallace Willis, a freed slave born in Mississippi. First recorded by the Fisk University (a Nashville HBCU) Jubilee Quartet in 1909, the song inspired Black choral ensembles across the country and internationally to perform renditions of spirituals. The enduring power of these spirituals would be utilized a century later during the Civil Rights Movement by gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson.
Odetta Was The Queen Of American Folk Music
Odetta — a Black woman born in Birmingham, Ala. in 1930 — inspired countless fellow folk singers, including Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, as well as Janis Joplin and Tracy Chapman. She was known as the "voice of the Civil Rights movement," and, as Martin Luther King, Jr. called her, the "queen Of American folk music." She performed at countless Civil Rights events, including the March on Washington in 1963.
When the momentum of the Civil Rights movement slowed following King’s assasination, the spotlight also shifted away from Odetta. Yet she never stopped performing and using her music to fight oppression and effect change. Odetta remained active until her passing in 2008 and her guitar, "Baby," (as well as its unicorn stickered case) is on display in the exhibit.
A Supergroup Stood Up Against Apartheid Through Song
In 1985, E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt gathered together a stellar cast of rock, rap, country and pop musicians to record "Sun City" as Artists United Against Apartheid. On display are Melle Mel’s hand-written lyrics from his "Sun City" verse and Van Zandt's electric guitar, next to a visually captivating music video.
The catchy, synthy song called out the injustice of South Africa’s apartheid government and was a vow by the artists — which also included Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Run-D.M.C., Pat Benatar and Peter Gabriel — to not perform at the Sun City luxury resort in South Africa, which was luring in global superstars with high fees despite the cultural boycott.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights three years later, some of these same artists took part in multi-continent tours to encourage continued support for human rights.
The Father Of Chicano Rap, Frost, Was Signed To Eazy-E's Ruthless Records
When we think of major movements in L.A.'s musical history, the '80s and '90s West Coast rap of N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and others immediately comes to mind. Yet, just miles away from the powerful street lyricists of South Central, were a group of Latino rappers in East L.A. creating Chicano anthems.
Frost (formerly Kid Frost, born Arturo Molina Jr.) is known as the father of Chicano rap, creating punchy bars in Spanish and English. His first solo single, 1984's "Rough Cut," was produced by N.W.A's DJ Yella, and he'd later become the first Latino artist to sign with Ruthless Records.
In 1990, Frost dropped his debut album, Hispanic Causing Panic, which included the hit single "La Raza." That essential song is cited as one the first Latin hip-hop songs to go mainstream and sampled El Chicano's 1970 track "Viva Tirado," directly nodding to the earlier Chicano rock movement. Always one for building bridges, Frost created the Latin Alliance in 1989, a collective featuring Latino rappers and producers from East L.A., Cuba, New York, Puerto Rico and beyond.
Los Angeles Has Always Been A Hotbed For Political Music
The public image of L.A. is often limited to its miles of beaches, palm tree-lined streets, crowded highways and the neon glitz of Hollywood. But the reality of life in the City of Angels is often far from a beachy V.I.P. daydream, and many L.A.-based artists have offered a glimpse of that reality.
Just as we saw the connection between South Central and eastside rappers, and the Chicano rock and rap movements, the exhibit details contemporary, ongoing activism by artists of color. These artists address systemic oppression in their neighborhoods and beyond, writing songs that reflect upon historic moments such as the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the Los Angeles Uprising in 1992.
“If you look at our community's history, there have been so many historical events that have sparked and inspired the formation of socially conscious music. So that’s why we really wanted to add the Sounds Of L.A. section in,” Nicholas Vega, GRAMMY Museum’s Curator and Director of Exhibitions, told GRAMMY.com.
Exemplifying this intersection are the Compton Cowboys, who run one of the few remaining Black-owned ranches in America. The debut single from cowboy Randy Savvy, "COLORBLIND," was mixed by Compton legend Dr. Dre and released in 2020. Addressing violence and trauma in Savvy’s community, “COLORBLIND’ became an anthem during Black Lives Matter protests — which the cowboys attended on horseback.
“We look at specific events — everything from the Watts Riots/Uprising to the Chicano Movement to the 1992 Riots/Uprising — but we also look at these ongoing issues that for decades have plagued our city; gang violence, police brutality, economic disparity and poverty,” Vega continued. “So it was the perfect fit to bring this exhibition back here to L.A. and really highlight the music and the artistry.”
Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom runs until May 8 at the GRAMMY Museum. Other special exhibits currently on display are Para Siempre: Marco Antonio Solís through spring 2022), Dave Matthews Band: Inside And Out (until Jan. 31) and Nat King Cole (closing soon). Visit grammymuseum.org to purchase advance tickets to visit the GRAMMY Museum and learn about their COVID-19 safety protocol measures.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum
Hip-hop duo discuss their career beginnings and creating their GRAMMY-nominated album The Heist
Current seven-time GRAMMY nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, along with their manager Zach Quillen, recently participated in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's A Conversation With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, the hip-hop duo and Quillen discussed the beginning of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' career, having creative control over their work and recording their GRAMMY-nominated Album Of The Year, The Heist.
"I met somebody [who] had the same dedication as me, [who] put everything into the music, everything into the craft," said Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) regarding meeting Lewis. "I wanted a career and Ryan was somebody [who] had the same discipline and sacrificed everything."
"I think it took a little while before it became clear to me who [Macklemore] was going to be," said Lewis. "I think the first indication of that was with the song 'Otherside' from the VS. Redux EP]. … That song … embodied so much. It was a story nobody was telling. … It was just somebody who was dying to be on the mike and to say something."
Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Lewis have been making music fans take notice since they released their debut EP, 2009's The VS. EP. They followed with VS. Redux, which reached No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. The duo made waves in 2011 with the release of their hit single "Can't Hold Us" featuring Ray Dalton. The next year Macklemore was featured on the cover of XXL Magazine's coveted freshman class issue, and Rolling Stone dubbed the duo an "indie rags-to-riches" success story.
Released in 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 hits "Can't Hold Us" and "Thrift Shop," the latter of which reached multi-platinum status and remained on top of the charts for six weeks. The album garnered a nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards, while "Thrift Shop" earned a nod for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The duo's Top 20 hit "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert earned a nomination for Song Of The Year and has been adopted by some as a pro-equality anthem. The duo garnered additional nominations for Best New Artist and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us."
Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Icons Of The Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 14) and A Conversation With Peter Guralnick (Jan. 15).
Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture
The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more
Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago.
The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums.
“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."
Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater.
"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."
The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum.
Scott Goldman and Julia Michaels
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com
Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast
Go inside the bright mind of one of pop's most promising singer/songwriters and learn about her songwriting process, her transition to the spotlight and the three female artists she admires
Julia Michaels' career has soared within the past year. Already a talented songwriter with writing credits such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony to her name, Michaels took a leap of faith with the release of her third solo EP, 2017's Nervous System.
Though Michaels has admitted to being nervous about moving to the forefront as an artist in her own right, the gamble paid off. The single "Issues" went gangbusters all the way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and her EP cracked the Top 50. Plus, the Davenport, Iowa, native scored two nominations for the 60th GRAMMY Awards: Song Of The Year for "Issues" and Best New Artist.
What makes Michaels tick musically, how did she overcome her trepidation and why does she rely on feelings to guide her songwriting?
"It depends on the person. A lot of the times I'll just talk to them [first]," said Michaels regarding collaborating with other artists. "I mean we're all human. We all cry the same. We all bleed the same. So I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible to be able to tell me things, even if the artist that I'm with doesn't write, just having them talk is lyrics in itself. You know, them explaining their day or expressing how they feel. It's like, "That's amazing ... if that's how you're feeling we should write that.'"
As a matter of fact, Michaels told the host of "Required Listening," GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman, that she lets her feelings pilot her songwriting instead of traditional conventions — a process that has yielded gems such as "Issues."
"I'm not that calculated when I write," said Michaels. "I'm all heart when I write so I don't think about the algorithm of a song or the mathematics of a song. I just think, 'This feels good to me,' and just kind of go with that."
When peppered by Goldman with a question about coming into the limelight as a recording artist, Michaels was quick to point out that she has benefitted from plenty of help and encouragement.
"I think a lot of people have helped me get there," said Michaels. "My manager, Beka Tischker, she's been with me for six years. She's always believed in me. … And this year a lot of people have come into my life. I mean even my band — Dan Kanter, who's my guitar player … he's been with me since the beginning of the artist transition. I can't even do it without him at this point. ... There's a lot of people in my life, especially this year, that have made me feel comfortable and confident."
Speaking of confidence, Michaels has taken cues from plenty of her self-assured peers. She cited three artists, in particular, who have inspired her career path.
"I'm not that calculated when I write. I'm all heart." — Julia Michaels
"[Pink is] a bad*," said Michaels. "I love Fiona Apple. I love a lot of artists that are not afraid to say what they want to say. I love artists that write their own music. Laura Marling — she's very much from her point of view, very much whatever she wants to do. And plus her voice is so haunting and beautiful."
"Required Listening" launched on GRAMMY Sunday, Jan. 28, with the first episode featuring an in-depth conversation with GRAMMY winners Imagine Dragons and the second detailing "The Defiant Ones" with Allen Hughes and Jimmy Iovine.
GRAMMY Museum To Launch Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! Sept. 12
Exhibit to feature artifacts from the private collection of the iconic power-pop band
On Sept. 12 the GRAMMY Museum will launch Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! — a one-of-a-kind exhibit offering visitors an in-depth look at the more than 35-year career of power-pop progenitors Cheap Trick.
Located in the Museum's Mike Curb Gallery on the fourth floor, artifacts on display will include guitars played by Rick Nielsen, including his 1952 Fender Telecaster used during a performance at Budokan in Tokyo; costumes worn on the album cover of 1979's Dream Police; and original lyrics, photographs, and tour ephemera, among other items.
In conjunction with the launch of the exhibit, on Sept. 12 Cheap Trick will visit the GRAMMY Museum's Clive Davis Theater to participate in a question-and-answer session and perform a brief set as part of the Museum's An Evening With series.
Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me! will be on display through June 2014.