Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom

Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom

Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom, curated by the GRAMMY Museum® in Los Angeles, examines the role music has played in informing and inspiring social consciousness throughout American history. Charting a path from spirituals that were sung by enslaved people in America and the labor movement struggles that Woody Guthrie wrote about in songs like “1913 Massacre,” to the mass movement of music and art that helped to stir action during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, to the continued fight for racial justice in America today, the exhibit spans time and genre to tell the stories of music’s role as a source of inspiration and an educator.

The original Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom special exhibit was first on display at the GRAMMY Museum® when it opened in Los Angeles in 2008. In the 13 years since that initial run, the exhibit has been updated to include the growing Black Lives Matter movement and how music from artists like H.E.R. and Lil Baby continue the traditions of using music as an agent and catalyst for social change.

The exhibit also tells the story of Tulsa’s history of racial violence through the eyes and sounds of the upcoming Fire in Little Africa multimedia project. The ways in which the Tulsa Race Massacre, which left hundreds dead and dozens of Tulsa city blocks burned and looted at the hands of a white mob, continues to shape life in Tulsa is told through a new album collaboration by Oklahoma rappers and producers. Visitors can see lyrics and other memorabilia related to the project and learn how songs of conscience from Tulsa creators continue to chime the sounds of freedom.

On display:

  • Woody Guthrie’s Tenor Banjo (May Bell) used during the “Woody and Lefty Lou” radio show in the 1930s
  • Handwritten lyrics to “I Can’t Breathe” and the Martin LX1 Little Martin Acoustic guitar used by H.E.R. to write the song
  • John Mellencamp’s Gibson Dove Acoustic guitar with “Fuck Fascism” written on it
  • Steven Van Zandt’s guild electric guitar used during the recording of “Sun City”
  • Handwritten lyrics to “The Ballad of George Floyd” written by Dave Specter
  • Custom dress designed by Naeem Khan worn by Mickey Guyton during her performance of “Black Like Me” at the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards (2021)
  • Pete Seeger’s five-string banjo
  • “Song Spotlights” that tell the stories of such landmark protest songs as “Strange Fruit,” “What’s Going On?” and others.
  • Performance footage and interviews with prominent topical songwriters.



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