In the Civil Rights Movement, a significant role was played by folk music, gospel, and spirituals of African Americans. Through means of publications and large meetings, the songs were disseminated to activists by a collaboration of the musicians with the singers and including different song collectors and ethnomusicologists. For different certain objectives, these songs were sung.
For instance, for motivating the individuals through long marches and for providing them with psychological strength against brutality and harassment. Some of the prime examples of these songs were: ‘We Shall Overcome’, ‘Eyes on the Prize’, and ‘Tree of Life’ by Candie Carawan and Guy who were the leading folksingers in the Civil Rights Movement.
In Tennessee, the Carawans worked at the Highlander Folk School where eventually the songs related to the movement were learned and significant training was provided to activists who used to come around from different parts of the country. A non-violent philosophical atmosphere was provided to these activists. For every particular mood, songs were written and presented in Tennessee. These songs were quite jubilant. They also included sad songs related to those who were killed and songs that were played at the parties.
The significance of music in the Civil Rights Movement was also confirmed by Pete Seeger – the folk singer and many other different activists of that time. For civil rights organizations, money was eventually raised by Pete Seeger through his performance at various concerts. It was because of him the great song ‘We Shall Overcome’ got spread to the civil rights worker. Along with this, to show sufficient support to the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Pete Seeger also traveled to Jackson in Mississippi in 1964. Although when he was there, the absence of three civil right workers named James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman was recorded.
Pete Seeger claimed that he remembers that sad moment when he was singing in the church for about two hundred people when he received the notice about the death of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. Upon his announcement about the sudden deaths of the workers, the church got filled with complete silence and people were reciting prayers for the deceased. After that, he sang the song made-up by Fred Hellerman: ‘O Healing river, send down your waters. Send down your waters upon this land’. Another remarkable singer of Civil Rights Movement was Jamila Jones who was born in Alabama and while as a teenager she sang with the Harambee singers and the Montgomery Gospel Trio.