Voices of Rage: It's Been Said All Along

For centuries, artists of all colors and creeds have used music to express their undeniable rage in song -- with messages of anger, love, authenticity and resilience

Sepia Magazine (August 1964)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Sepia Magazine, 1964

The ideology of expressing rage in music is one that can be misinterpreted, especially when the discussion centers around social justice.

Black musicians were not immune to feeling rage, as they suffered racism within the music industry and across the country, enduring brazen Jim Crow segregation laws. That rage was particularly expressed in music by Black musicians entertaining white and segregated audiences.

Rock 'N Roll Show of '57 Concert Poster (1957)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rock 'N Roll Show of '57 Concert Poster

The inability to dine, lodge, receive fair wages, travel safely or be admitted into the very venues where Black artists performed, were just a few of the hurdles that racist segregation laws built. Many of their shows were performed to racially divided audiences.

"Strange Fruit" (2000) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

"Strange Fruit", 2000

Diana Ross sings during her speech for Billie Holiday's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Back to the World (1973)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Back to the World, 1973

As a member of the Impressions and as a solo artist, Curtis Mayfield was a commanding trailblazer, singer, songwriter and guitarist whose music contributed to the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement.

Back to the World addresses the struggles of Black soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War only to be greeted with hatred, conspiracy theories and a lack of resources. Despite receiving limited airplay on mainstream radio, Mayfield’s message did reach the masses. 

“Fight the Power” Released on the Album Fear of a Black Planet (1990)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

“Fight the Power” Released on Fear of a Black Planet, 1990

"Fight the Power" was written by Chuck D, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee and Keith Shocklee; and recorded by Public Enemy.

Public Enemy’s political anthem “Fight the Power” was based on the 1975 Isley Brothers song of the same name.  Although both songs give off a different intensity, the message is the same.

“Freedom of speech is freedom of death,” Chuck D said to Rolling Stone. “That line is like Bob Marley or Frederick Douglass: ‘There’s no progress without struggle.”’

Public Enemy Pendant Necklace (c.1991)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Public Enemy Pendant Necklace, c. 1991

This necklace was worn by members of Public Enemy as a symbol of unity and represented awareness and celebration of Black people's struggle and triumph in the United States.

Chuck D of Public Enemy Hat (c.1990s)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Chuck D of Public Enemy Hat, c. 1990s

Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2013.

Chuck D of Public Enemy on creating "Fight the Power" (September 15, 2020)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Interview with Chuck D and Jahi, September 15, 2020

In this video, 2013 Rock Hall Inductee Chuck D of Public Enemy explains to current artist and bandmate Jahi what it meant to him when Academy Award winning director Spike Lee asked them to write the "anthem" for his movie Do the Right Thing.  

"Fight the Power" (2013) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

"Fight the Power", 2013

Public Enemy perform "Fight the Power" at the 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Public Enemy revisited the hip-hop classic on June 29, 2020, to address the current landscape and recognize the recent protest and rallies stemming from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pope, Tony McDade and countless others.

N.W.A. Jacket (c.1999)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

N.W.A. Jacket

N.W.A.’s single, “F*ck tha Police,” reflected the harsh reality of their neighborhood and attracted a level of public interest that even the FBI condemned.

Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2015, member Ice Cube said, “That song is still in the same place before it was made. It’s our legacy here in America with the police department and any kind of authority figures…"

"There’s usually abuse, and violence connected to that interaction, so when ‘F*ck tha Police’ was made in 1988, it was 400 years in the making. And it’s still just as relevant as it was before it was made.” N.W.A. was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2016.

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine Shirt (1999)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine Shirt, 1999

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Tom Morello wore this shirt in the music video for Rage Against the Machine's “Guerilla Radio.” In 2001, the band won the GRAMMY award for Best Hard Rock Performance for “Guerilla Radio.”

Morello has continually used his platform to address social inequalities head-on through his music and in the streets as an avid activist.

Tom Morello Says 100% of Music Is Political (2016) by Rock & Roll Hall of FameRock & Roll Hall of Fame

Tom Morello Says 100% of Music Is Political, 2016

Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello shares why he thinks all music is political, "If you're not questioning authority, you're tacitly submitting to authority."

Fantastic Negrito Acoustic Guitar: Epiphone Masterbilt, AJ-45ME (2016)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Fantastic Negrito Epiphone Masterbilt, AJ-45ME

Celebrating global blackness, GRAMMY Award-winning Oakland-based musician Fantastic Negrito blends blues, soul and rock to underscore the Black experience. Negrito’s cover of the Lead Belly song “In the Pines” speaks to the impact of gun violence that Black women experience. 

Fantastic Negrito Discusses Covering Inductee Lead Belly's Song “In the Pines” (September 15, 2020)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Fantastic Negrito Discusses "In the Pines", 2020

“I loved how the song opened up with ‘Black girl where did you sleep last night,’ [it] symbolized the loneliness and strength of this woman. I have seen this tragedy first-hand growing up in Oakland, CA where so many young people die prematurely at the hands of gun violence.”

Behind the scenes of the Rock Hall's social justice exhibit, It's Been Said All Along, with Collections Specialist Sule Holder (January 18, 2021)Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Behind-the -Scenes with Collections Specialist Sule Holder

"Rage, hope and empowerment -- those are sort of the stages, in a sense, of most change or revolution. I don't know how you could make change in society, or a cultural shift, without having some form of rage, hope and empowerment...That is where it all starts."

ROCK HALL EDU Rage Against the Machine throttles the status quo by exposing oppressive systems of power. Onstage and off, they gave voice to the powerless by calling out inequalities and railing against censorship, injustice and government overreach. Rage Against the Machine mixed powerful styles of music like hip-hop, punk, metal, funk and rock to get their point across. The Rage Against the Machine Playlist teaches students about injustices of the past and how music can educate, protest and make a difference in the world.

Nina Simone's unapologetic rage and accusatory voice named names and took no prisoners in the African American struggle for equality in the early 1960s. Use the Nine Simone Research Guide, compiled by staff members at the Rock Hall Library & Archives, to access resources about Simone, including books, audio recordings, YouTube videos, and archival materials.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST Hear the music behind It's Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope & Empowerment on the Rock Hall's Spotify channel.

Credits: Story

It's Been Said All Along: Voice of Rage, Hope and Empowerment opened at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on July 26, 2020.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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