Understanding Racism through Music

This lesson can be used more as an introduction to a variety of topics. When I use this lesson in my classroom, it will for more of an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance and Jim Crow Laws throughout the 1920’s. In this lesson, the class will listen to Billie Holiday’s, “Strange Fruit”, and follow along with the lyrics. After listening to the song, students will turn to a partner and talk about what they heard and read from the song. The class will come back together as a whole group and share what they heard and what they think that tells them about this decade. Then students will listen to a section of a more modern song that talks about similar problems, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, by Kendrick Lamar. While listening to the lyrics and following along with the lyrics printed out in front of them, students will make connections between the two songs. Students will turn to a partner once more to chat before coming all together as a bigger group to discuss. Depending on time constraints, students will then have the opportunity to look for a song like “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, that can compare to “Strange Fruit”.

This kind of lesson may be able to be used in middle school, but depending on what songs you choose to use, may be better suited for high school classes. There are many more modern songs used today that can be used to compare to “Strange Fruit” or similar songs of the time, making this lesson easier for students to relate to. It is also important to emphasize the kind of language used in each song that is chosen too. While there are many more modern songs that can relate to “Strange Fruit”, a lot of those songs can have language that is not appropriate for school.

Strange Fruit sung by Billie Holiday
Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst sung by Kendrick Lamar

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