What does one of Bob Dylan’s best known songs have to do with slavery and the American Civil War? How did spiritual songs recorded by Union soldiers in the 1860s become popular protest songs 100 years later? Every song has a history, and Revolutions offers a comparative look at two dramatic periods of civil strife and the music they inspired.
Songs are more than a form of entertainment; they are cultural touchstones used to convey ideas, inspire patriotism, reward sacrifice, and encourage loyalty. Although separated by one hundred years, music defined both the Civil War and civil rights eras, and it continues to shape our own memory of those dramatic periods.
In both 1860 and 1960, Americans believed they were standing at the brink of great events. Young, charismatic presidents had just won hard-fought political contests promising reform that would reduce injustice and inequality in the United States. By 1865 and 1965, both presidents had been assassinated, leaving not only their promised reforms in jeopardy but also a nation coming to terms with the meaning of war.
Comparing songs from these two periods offers an opportunity to explore the ways in which their unique power transcends time. Listen to the music and think about why certain songs have endured and become an integral part of our national story.
The exhibition uses more than thirty objects to explore music that defined the Civil War and civil rights eras. It is broken into six sections: patriotic, sentimental, spirituals, freedom, dixie, and ballads. There are also two audio visual units that invite visitors to listen to performances and read lyrics of material featured in the show.