In 1964, Bob Dylan, author of the early-1960s protest anthem "Blowin' in the Wind" and one of the most celebrated political singers of his generation, explained to critic Nat Hentoff that he no longer wished to be known as a protest singer. "Me, I don't want to write for people anymore—you know, be a spokesman," Dylan said. "From now on, I want to write from inside me. I’m not part of no movement."
Dylan’s shift from political songs to ostensibly more personal ones not only marked an important moment in his career, but also anticipated the commercial backlash in the 1970s against music that explicitly aligned itself with the civil rights movement. In contrast to Dylan's ongoing success, other singers often associated with the protest-song tradition such as Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln weren't so lucky. While the post-1960s era didn't necessarily mean the death of all protest music in the United States, it did mark the rapid decline of what many fondly refer to as "movement music." That is, until now.
Over the last few months, thousands of protestors have taken both to social media and to the streets in response to the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the subsequent grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for their deaths. Hailed by some as the birth of a new civil rights movement, these activists are now part of a decentralized campaign—with protests all over the country under the banner of "Black Lives Matter"—demanding an end to institutionalized racism in general, and police brutality against African Americans in particular. And like the previous Civil Rights era, its soundtrack distinguishes this movement. Young musicians, some famous, others grassroots, are finding their role in this movement through a simultaneous revival and redefinition of the protest song tradition.