This fall, the University of Rhode Island’s annual honors colloquium, Songs of Social Justice: The Rhetoric of Music, will explore how music has been –and continues to be–a constant refrain in shaping the political and social experience. The semester-long series, free and open to the public, will feature such noted activist musicians as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Peggy Seeger, Chuck D, and Utah Phillips who will discuss and perform their music.
“Protest songs are at the root of every major movement in our history. Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind,” the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” and Reddy’s “I am Woman,” for example, not only instantly bring to mind the melody, but the message,” says Steve Wood, professor of Communications Studies, who coordinates the series with Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology; and Joe Parillo, jazz musician and professor of music. The program is dedicated to the late Stephen Myles of URI’s Counseling Center who was the fourth coordinator.
“Freedom of speech as well as the U.S. constitution is under intense pressure in these days of terrorism and fear of terrorism,” Wood continues. “This colloquium gives us a chance to step back to see how music helped shape the labor, farm workers, women’s, Civil Rights and anti-war and other movements. But it also will show how protest songs are contemporary and stake out positions, often controversial positions, on immigration, environmental, political concerns and our proclivity for war.”
Chuck D, founder of “Public Enemy” and recognized as hip-hop’s most respected intellectual, kicks off the series on Sept. 12.
Other speakers/performers include Kim and Reggie Harris, Magpie, and Sonny Ochs who will explore the role music has played in the Civil Rights Movement. Canada’s Ember Swift whose music addresses such issues as globalization and consumer awareness will appear in October. Award-winning local musicians Joyce Katzberg, Charlie King, and Karen Brandow will explore contemporary issues in November.
Nora Guthrie concludes the blockbuster series on Dec. 5 with a tribute to her father, the late, great Woody Guthrie. She will appear with the Vanaver Caravan who will present a medley of folk music, accompanied by a professional dance team.
In addition to attending the evening events, a class of 75 URI Honors Students will further explore the topic with readings and discussions. Some of the visiting performers plan to attend the daytime class to speak with the students and answer questions.
Events will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium on URI’s main campus in Kingston. Visit uri.edu/hc for the current schedule and directions. For more information, contact the URI Honors Center at 401-874-2303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major sponsors for the series are The Providence Journal, the URI Division of University Advancement, the URI Honors Program, the URI Office of the President, and the URI Office of the Provost.