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 just 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? Maybe it was something you saw on TV that spurred you to action, or a news article that 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 just 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 an injustice. Let's explore some great songs and the causes that they communicated.

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

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

One of the most famous composers of protest music was the great Woody Guthrie. Listen to one of his best, and saddest, songs, "1913 Massacre." As you do, 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?

You can listen to the song 1913 Massacre while you read the lyrics, 1913 Massacre, courtesy of Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

Woody Guthrie – 1913 Massacre by an3yt:

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This song was about a real historical event! Check your answers against the real history, The Italian Hall Disaster: One Reason to Observe a Silent Night This Christmas Eve, by Steve Lehto, courtesy of The Huffington Post.

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 revered as a master of American folk music, but he was just one of many great musicians who infused their music with deeper messages.

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

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