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​Songs of Resistance & Civil Rights: African-American spirit in song

by Hee Han | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | February 7th, 2018

The Songs of Resistance & Civil Rights exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, with a new exhibit featuring songs from African-American culture.

The exhibit opened last week in the Art Annex of the Roland Dille Center for the Arts on the MSUM campus. MSUM introduces the exhibit as celebrating “the power of African-American music sung during the 20th century crusades for justice and civil rights. Sung by African-American congregations, protest organizations, activists and individual performers as they organized and marched for their human and civil rights, these songs embody the spirituality, resistance, inspiration, resilience and determination of the Movement.”

There will be a variety of contents about the justice and civil rights featured. Laurie Blunsom, Professor of Music History and Chair of the School of Arts at MSUM, said, “We didn’t want to focus only on the tragedy of the assassination; we wanted to show the broader movement and the continued hope for change after MLK’s assassination. We wanted the exhibit to show hope, change and triumph in the face of adversity.

“The exhibit panels feature important songs and performers of songs from the African-American Civil Rights movement. The panels demonstrate the breadth of songs that activists sung as they faced the uphill battle for justice and civil rights, including songs from many African-American traditions, such as the blues, spirituals and gospel. We wanted to show that songs of despair were often transformed into songs of hope, and that the spiritual power of the music fortified African Americans to continue their struggle for civil rights.

“There are large “feature” panels that include images related to the songs, performers and civil rights campaigns, the song lyrics, audio samples, links to video examples, and descriptions of each song and its role as a song of resistance. There are small panels that feature songs and information on important aspects of the civil rights movement along with associated songs.”

The exhibit will be conducted by three faculty; Laurie Blunsom, Phyllis May-Machunda and Chris Walla.

Laurie Blunsom is Professor of Music History and Chair of the School of Art at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She received her Ph.D. in musicology at Brandeis University and also holds an MFA in musicology and women's studies from Brandeis and a master's degree from the New England Conservatory. She is a specialist in American music, particularly of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and her work focuses on identity in composition and performance.Phyllis May-Machunda is Professor of American Multicultural Studies in the History, Languages, Critical Race and Women’s Studies Departments at Minnesota State University Moorhead. 

She earned her MA and Ph.D. in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University-Bloomington, with a special emphasis in African-American cultural and performance traditions; and a B.Mus. with honors and a K-12 teaching certificate from the University of Iowa in vocal performance. May-Machunda’s scholarship is interdisciplinary and sits at the intersection of African-American Studies, multicultural and social justice education, the arts and humanities. Her research investigates the cultural and performing traditions of African-American women and children and seeks to enrich P-16 curricula with multicultural and equitable resources. Chris Walla is a Professor of Sculpture in the School of Art at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He participated in the project as a consultant in the design, production and installation of the exhibit. Walla holds a BFA in sculpture from Western Washington University and an MFA in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Walla has been a McKnight Fellow and regularly exhibits his work both regionally and nationally.

Blunsom explained the event was not just to commemorate Dr. King’s assassination once a year. She has a bigger plan to show where we are now in civil rights.

“The impetus for the exhibition came from our dean, Dr. Earnest Lamb. He asked that the MSUM School of Art and Art Gallery participate in the commemoration of Dr. King’s assassination this year. As chair of the department and a music historian, I had the idea to do an interdisciplinary project with Art, History and Music.

“I enlisted Dr. May-Machunda, since she is an expert on African-American history and culture, particularly in the areas of music and civil rights (She has done extensive work on African-American music and culture at the Smithsonian Institution). Together we chose the theme and the songs and wrote the text.

Prof. Walla was consulted on the design and production of the panels.”

Blunsom wanted people to understand the broader scope of Dr. King’s work on civil rights and to be able to hear the music and have their hearing be informed by the struggle for African-American civil rights. She emphasized that music played an important role in the movement, and that there was a wide variety of music adapted to express resistance.

Those attending the exhibit should know: 

a) The exhibit is in the Art Annex, which is outside the Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts. It is free and open until February 28. 

b) Audio samples of the songs are available on the large panels. All the songs can be heard or seen by scanning QR codes on the panels (QR scanner apps are readily available for cell phones) — or by going to the website:

c) There is lots of art to see in the Art Gallery at MSUM: Also in the Art Annex (opposite the Songs of Resistance exhibit) is an exhibit called: "Make Your Mark: A Community Collaboration.” It is an interactive art exhibit that invites anyone to contribute a drawing to the exhibit. In the Art Gallery is our annual juried student show, representing the best art works by students in the School of Art (open Mon-Sat, 9am to 9pm). All are free and open to the public.

Blunsom said, “It was an amazingly smooth process, which is surprising for a collaborative effort. Everyone involved really went above and beyond to make the exhibit happen: from writing collaboratively to consulting on design, to helping install and even get everything printed on time!

“The special thanks we’ve given speak to the collaboration and effort folks put into the project: Chris Walla for contributing his expertise, Bertha Vasquez (our gallery director) for installing the exhibit, Jennifer Donahue in Marketing for printing/mounting the panels, the School of Art for supporting the project in the Art Annex, and the School of Performing Arts for funding the printing and materials.”

Once again, the exhibit is free and open to the public, and continues through February 28. You can also go to the website for the specific songs that are featured:


Songs of Resistance & Civil Rights 

Roland Dille Center for the Arts MSUM, 

1104 7th Ave S, Moorhead

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