Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora

356 pages

6 halftones

December, 2013

ISBN: 9780814770412



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Shana L. Redmond is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is a former musician and labor organizer.

All books by Shana L. Redmond

For people of African descent, music constitutes a unique domain of expression. From traditional West African drumming to South African kwaito, from spirituals to hip-hop, Black life and history has been dynamically displayed and contested through sound. Shana Redmond excavates the sonic histories of these communities through a genre emblematic of Black solidarity and citizenship: anthems. An interdisciplinary cultural history, Anthem reveals how this “sound franchise” contributed to the growth and mobilization of the modern, Black citizen. Providing new political frames and aesthetic articulations for protest organizations and activist-musicians, Redmond reveals the anthem as a crucial musical form following World War I.
Beginning with the premise that an analysis of the composition, performance, and uses of Black anthems allows for a more complex reading of racial and political formations within the twentieth century, Redmond expands our understanding of how and why diaspora was a formative conceptual and political framework of modern Black identity. By tracing key compositions and performances around the world—from James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” that mobilized the NAACP to Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted & Black” which became the Black National Anthem of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)—Anthem develops a robust recording of Black social movements in the twentieth century that will forever alter the way you hear race and nation.


  • "Anthem succeeds in foregrounding the significance of music as an oral tradition, and its ability to move people who may not be literate in the written word.  Redmond ably traces music’s elemental power to move humans, and how it connects people to ideas, movements, and other activists.  In general, the book succeeds admirably in making readers think about these songs in new ways.”

    American Historical Review

  • "Offers a model to future scholars who wish to blend the intricacies of musical analysis with other source bases or methodologies."

    American Quarterly

  • "Anthem is an impressively rich analysis of the songs that gave rise to and developed out of the fraught history of diasporic political movements.  Redmond's blend of musicology, political history, and social engagements establishes the anthem as a densely layered text, one that invites close reading but whose ultimate meaning can only be understood in the context of its reconstructed sociopolitical moment."


  • "In this important book, Redmond illuminates the ways that songs function as 'political acts of performance' . . . . Listen to the music as you read to appreciate even further this deeply intelligent, innovative, richly interdisciplinary, and thought-provoking book."

    The Journal of American History

  • Anthem is truly a tour de force. Deeply-researched, brilliantly conceived, and beautifully written, the book reveals how ‘anthems’ register both a collective sense of history and a vision of the future for aggrieved groups—not just people of African-descent. Anthem will stand as the model for transnational scholarship for years to come.”

    —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times

  • "An extraordinary, innovative and generative book. Shana Redmond reveals how musical anthems served as powerful sources of inspiration and as crucial mechanisms for social mobilization in twentieth century Black freedom struggles around the world. She presents fascinating portraits of individual performer-activists including Paul Robeson, Miriam Makeba, and Nina Simone, while delineating the largely unknown social histories of significant songs such as "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "Old Man River," "We Shall Overcome," and "Nkosi Sikilel' iAfrika." More than any previous scholar, Redmond shows how musical practices and performances enabled people of African origin all around the world to establish themselves as an aggrieved and insurgent people struggling for freedom and justice."

    —George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place