Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement

Jazz was the soundtrack of the Civil Rights movement. Artists felt the pressure from Civil Rights activists to use their art for good and join the fight for equality. Artists such as Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong were shamed for continuing to perform in venues where audiences were segregate. Jazz was the leading genre of music during the Civil Rights movement. Jazz musicians performed at benefit concerts and protests. When tragedy struck the African American community, Jazz musicians were amongst the first to respond. They were quick, creative, and intentional in the role they played as activists in the Civil Rights Movement.


The style of the music also changed to reflect Black pride. This was a turning point for the overall sound of Jazz music. Certain Jazz esthetics even had political meaning. During this era, almost every Black Jazz musician was creating music to reflect the woes of the time and the demands of the people. Artists such Nina Simone, who fought tirelessly in the civil rights movement refused to separate her art from her want and need for equity in American. Nina Simone even released a song entitled “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free”. Nina Simone used her pain and disappointment in the state of the nation in her music. Her lyrics were radical for the time and told a brutal truth about what it was like to be Black in America in the 1960s

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