The explosive acts of racially motivated violence in the 1960s gave birth to more than just enmity between races and a national crisis—it fueled the creative passion of artists like Nina Simone, Gordon Parks and James Brown. This installment of Peabody Spotlight revisits their work and its impact on the civil rights and black power movements.
When Nina Simone wrote and sang “Mississippi Goddam” in 1964 as a response to the violence, she put the South and the rest of the country on notice, a turning point for the classically trained pianist.
“It was very exhilarating to be part of that movement at the time because I was needed. I could sing to help my people,” she explains in the 2015 Peabody Award-winning documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
Similar sentiments motivated Gordon Parks to use his camera to document black life and set the tone for generations of African-American photographers to come, as told in “Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” a Peabody Awards finalist in 2015. “I felt the need to somehow or another use humanity to get people to become aware of how people suffered. That was what drove me into it,” Parks says.
James Brown solidified his role as a symbol of black power when civil rights organizers enlisted the soul singer to perform for marchers on behalf of the cause. “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown,” a 2014 Peabody Awards honoree, includes footage from a Boston concert in April 1968 that documents the influential singer effectively shutting down a rowdy audience and avoiding a potential riot in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s assassination.
Carrying the weight and hopes of a people was a difficult charge for black artists of the day. A sense of urgency and weariness is particularly palpable in Simone’s poignant performance at the Westbury Music Festival in New York three days after King’s death.
Peabody Spotlight is a digital series produced by the Peabody Media Center at the University of Georgia. Each piece draws from the vast Peabody Archive, the third largest repository of audiovisual materials in the United States. Peabody Spotlight will focus on significant societal issues as represented through the storytelling of Peabody winners and finalists, as well as 75 years of broadcasting’s best programming.
· “What Happened, Miss Simone” (Netflix, 2015)
· “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” (HBO, 2014)