Protest Music

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11521

Some love music you can dance to. Others need music with a meaning. Explore some of the great protest music of the 20th century and the history that surrounded it. Then, write your own protest song!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Sometimes, you have to speak out!

  • Have you ever seen something happen — maybe a friend was mistreated, property abused, or rude words said — and you just had to stand up and set things right?

Perhaps you saw something on TV that spurred you to action or a news article you just had to comment on.

Reflect on the following questions.

  • What was a situation when you had to stand up for someone else?
  • What would happen in society if we always just accepted the status quo?
  • When is it okay to let things go and accept an unjust situation?

Much of the great music of the 20th century was written and performed to speak out against injustice. Explore some great songs and the causes that they communicated.

If you listen to popular music today, much is about love, money, and living a fast life.

However, artists and songs are concerned with more than just material things. They are part of a musical tradition that goes back decades: protest music.

One of the most famous composers of protest music was Woody Guthrie, and "1913 Massacre" is one of his best and saddest songs. As you listen and read the lyrics below, write down answers to these questions.

  • What is the setting for the events in the song?
  • What is the story?
  • Who caused the events to happen?
  • Who was affected?

"1913 Massacre"

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This song was about an actual historical event!

Learn the true story behind The Italian Hall Disaster: One Reason to Observe a Silent Night This Christmas Eve.

Listen to the song and read the lyrics once again. This time, consider the following questions.

  • What does Guthrie want you to change about yourself or society?
  • What specific words in the lyrics support your view?
  • Why not just read the lyrics as a poem? What does the music add?

Woody Guthrie is considered a master of American folk music, but he was just one of many great musicians who infused their music with more profound messages.

In the Got It? section, you'll explore some of their work.

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