The Sound of a Movement: Music as a Tool for Change

By Grace Stevens, age 12

Billie Holiday at the Downbeat Club, a jazz club in New York City in 1947

Boycotting, marches and petitions are all effective forms of activism. But something that has always spoken to the hearts and souls of the masses has been our universal language—music!

Throughout history, musicians have written songs about causes they feel passionate about. From racism to poverty, music is frequently used as a tool to expose social injustices and to allow people to fully understand and advocate for certain issues. It is also a helpful tool to reach large audiences and spread the word about issues affecting us all.

When music is shared, it can help spur societal change, as it has the power to let people know about an issue and to inspire them to do something about it. From legendary examples like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” music has worked to break down stereotypes and draw attention to important social issues. Jax’s single “Victoria’s Secret” recently became a trend on TikTok and inspired people to share their experiences with body shaming or their struggle with body positivity. While this song helped people struggling with their body image, it also got the attention of former Victoria’s Secret CEO Amy Hauk. In response to this song, she assured the public that the image of their brand is something they are working on fixing. Although this song did not make immediate change, this shows that music is great at opening up conversations about issues that are often ignored.

Music can also help us understand different issues and problems that affect other cultures. Though commonly people do not speak more than one language, music from other cultures has the ability to connect us all. It can also help ease one of the huge problems that affect racism: single stories. Single stories are common stereotypes that are often seen in forms of media that shape your opinion and or view of certain ethnicities or races. Music can help break these stereotypes by showing that though many different places have different social justice issues that they battle, they cope in similar ways—one of those being music. Music can also help build community between different cultures.

Larry & Joe, a musical duo who write songs about social justice issues and activism, work together to try and achieve such change. Larry Bellorín, who was raised in Monagas, Venezuela, grew up playing the traditional music of his country, until circumstances forced him to seek asylum in the United States. That was when he met Joe Troop, a traditional Applacaian musician from North Carolina, and their worlds collided.

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