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Inspired by today’s Google Doodle honoring abolitionist and American hero Harriet Tubman I went on a bit of a quest to see what songs might have been written about this incredible woman. I was pretty sure there was a Woody Guthrie track out there and indeed there is: “Harriet Tubman’s Ballad.” Originally released in two parts, the song is a dusty, plain-spoken narrative that invites the listener to be both outraged and inspired by the story of the woman who was known as Moses.
Harriet Tubman’s Ballad Part 1 right click to download
I heard someone say recently that there is no such thing as a protest song in American music today because the culture now IS the counter-culture. Music business CEOs embrace Pete Seeger without a hint of self-awareness and now, the way to grab attention is to reduce your song and image to the lowest common denominators.
Harriet Tubman’s Ballad Part 2 right click to download
I also discovered that there is a Jazz/Rock fusion (!) band called Harriet Tubman. From the band’s Sunnyside Records bio:
Harriet Tubman is named after the heroic African-American slave who risked her life to escape from slavery and helped more than 300 others to do the same. Deeply inspired by the ideals of freedom, Harriet Tubman’s music plumbs the soul’s depths for liberated musical expression.
As you can hear, these guys are some serious musicians MUSICIANS. Just check out the credentials of drummer J.T. Lewis, guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist Melvin Gibbs.
Brandon Ross: Henry Threadgill, Cassandra WiIlson, Jewel, Arrested Development, Oliver Lake’s Jump Up, Lawrence ‘Butch’ Morris ensemble, Arto Lindsay, Muhal Richard Abrams, Archie Shepp, Leroy Jenkins, Lizz Wright, Kip Hanrahan, Don Byron, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Tony Williams, and The Lounge Lizards.
Melvin Gibbs: Rollins Band, dead prez, Punk-Funk All-Stars, DJ Logic, Arto Lindsay, Power Tools, Defunkt, Decoding Society, Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Eye and I.
J.T. Lewis: Living Colour, Dave Sanborn, Stanley Jordan, Sting, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Don Pullen, Lou Reed, Tina Turner, Vanessa Williams, Whitney Houston, Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, David Murray, Kip Hanrahan, Bill Laswell,Marc Ribot, Marianne Faithfull and Howard Johnson’s Gravityr
Turns out, Brooklyn-based troubadour, MC, and all around troublemaker Tim Frite has a song called “Harriet Tubman,” a concise, beautiful rumination that could be heard as a mystical spiritual. I am definitely intrigued by Frite’s story and back catalog so expect some more posts on him soon.
Harriet Tubman right click to download
For even more Harriet Tubman related songs check out this Spotify playlist. Thanks for coming along.