Silly Songs about the Space Race

The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, on October 4, 1957, triggering the space race with the United States. Although the satellite was only the size of a beach ball and emitted nothing more than radio beeps, many Americans feared it, supposing that it had some sort of militaristic purpose. This fear can be tracked through three novelty songs from the late 1950s: “Russia, Russia (Lay That Missile Down),” “Sputniks and Mutniks,” and “A Russian Love Song.”

The Power of Sound: The 2016 Presidential Campaign

By: Justin Patch (Vassar College) // The modern political campaign is an emotional and sensory affair. It is not rational or reasonable, nor is it concerned with presenting best policies and practices for governance, fostering the greatest good for all, or sensibly managing the world’s largest economy. Instead, campaigns appeal to pathos, optimism, nationalism, and … Continue reading The Power of Sound: The 2016 Presidential Campaign

Joe Hill Returns: Labor Movements and Protest Music

In 2011, singer Joan Baez performed the song “Joe Hill” for a Veteran’s Day rally sponsored by Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in New York City that same year in response to widespread financial corruption at banks and corporations. Baez has long been known for her work as an activist; although she might be new to younger generations, her voice is still respected at protests.

Selma’s Music: The Politics of Commemorating Bloody Sunday

By: Felicia Miyakawa (Round Rock, TX) // In 1965, documentary filmmaker Stefan Sharff captured the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sharff’s style is sonically sparse: in the entire 17-minute film, we hear only the chopping of helicopter blades; the voice of Dr. King, taken from a recording of … Continue reading Selma’s Music: The Politics of Commemorating Bloody Sunday

Handel’s Messiah: A Seeming Miracle Itself

By: Ellen T. Harris (MIT) // The following excerpt focuses on two of Handel’s most famous oratorios, Israel in Egypt and Messiah, considering the political and religious context of their composition and the impact of their music. Oratorios are dramatic compositions, usually set to religious, and often Biblical, texts, as is the case here, and … Continue reading Handel’s Messiah: A Seeming Miracle Itself

Hip-Hop Diplomacy, Part 4

The scene: Two teenage boys—doing their utmost to appear cool—loiter against a concrete wall in Patna, India. Two smiling teenage girls, deeply engaged in their own conversation, walk by the boys, who immediately start whistling, cat calling, and ogling, demanding the girls’ attention. The girls ignore them, but the boys follow them down the street with cries of “Oh, sexy!” and “What’s your name, baby?”