A Playlist for American History

Social Studies teacher George Loiodice

Students at Manhattan Comprehensive have gotten a new perspective on historical issues this year thanks to an elective course on Protest Music in U.S. History, led by Social Studies teacher George Loiodice. Students listen to and analyze songs from the 1960s to the present day, using them as a lens to understand protest movements and their historical roots, from the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam War protests through Black Lives Matter and Me Too. Loiodice uses college-level readings to contextualize the songs – folk, rock, pop, rap, and other genres – and gives the students creative license to bring in songs of their own with related content.

In a recent class, students discussed the status of Abigail Adams and other women during the Revolutionary War era in connection with two songs from nearly two centuries later: Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” Loiodice was surprised to learn that most of his students were familiar with these two songs; the fact that they have persisted in pop culture speaks to their enduring relevance. Another student brought in “Strange Fruit,” the 1939 song recorded by Billie Holiday that brought attention to the horror of lynching.

Loiodice, who once played drums in a band in what he refers to as “a short-lived career in music,” was inspired to create this class when MCNDHS Principal Kris Erickson invited teachers to propose new electives. Loiodice said, “I put history and my love of music together as an accessible way to understand American history and a flavorful way to remember it.”

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