The Ballad of George Floyd

“The Ballad of George Floyd” handwritten lyrics by Dave Specter, recorded with Billy Branch, Delmark Records, released Sept. 9, 2020

A new exhibit at the Woody Guthrie Center will feature musicians across genres and decades who used their craft to fight for equality.

“Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom,” curated by the GRAMMY Museum, will open May 21. The exhibit features musical freedom fighters who have inspired others to fight for justice, WGC Executive Director Deana McCloud says.

Tulsa creators’ work will be on display, as well. The city’s history of racial violence will be told through the eyes and sounds of the upcoming Fire in Little Africa multimedia project. The collaboration by Oklahoma rappers and producers commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The album will be released May 28 by Motown Records/Black Forum in partnership with WGC and the Bob Dylan Center. Though Fire in Little Africa is its own project, the exhibit will supplement the themes explored in the project.

Visitors will see lyrics and other memorabilia related to the project and learn how these songs of conscience and others throughout history factor into the broader fight for equity. Though the exhibit examines the history of protest music, it pays special attention to the music inspired by Black Lives Matter and other contemporary struggles for justice and equality in America, says Bob Santelli, GRAMMY Museum founding executive director and exhibit curator, in a release.

Such struggles are depicted in handwritten lyrics from “The Ballad of George Floyd,” a song written by Chicago-based blues musician and producer Dave Specter and recorded with Billy Branch on Delmark Records. 

Under a knee of hatred George Floyd met his terrible end.

400 years of the same hate and bigotry yet again.

Overall, the work on display illuminates injustice in our world and speaks truth to power, McCloud says, and it is a reminder the fight isn’t over. 

“There is still so much work to be done in order to achieve true equity for all,” McCloud says. “This ongoing struggle is the reason we have songs of conscience and sounds of freedom, and we join our voices in harmony with those who fight against all forms of fascism and injustice.”

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