Analysis of African Music Songs from Race Discrimination Perspective

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1516 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Words: 1516|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Comparison
  3. Conclusion
  4. References


"A Change is Gonna Come” belongs to the Top 10 Protest Songs of the 1960’s and “What’s Going On” is considered as one of the most beautiful and compelling songs of protest ever recorded. “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written in late 1963 during the period of Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The song’s lyrics and its soaring symphonic music capture the feelings of longing and hope for an end to segregation and discrimination based on race. The lyrics do not refer directly to the black struggle for civil rights or to any particular incident of segregation or discrimination experienced by the author. The author of this song is Sam Cooke, he was an American singer, songwriter and civil rights activist.

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'What's Going On' is a song by the American recording artist Marvin Gaye, released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary Tamla. Inspired by the police brutality, according to Buskin, cops were arresting several young anti-war protestors in San Francisco, incidents witnessed by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson. The song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye and produced by Gaye himself.


These two amazing and deep songs look for a change. A change achieved without violence or brutality, only with peace and love. One could realize that by reading the verses “Father, father, /We don’t need to escalate/You see, war is not the answer, /For only love can conquer hate” and the verse “Don’t punish me with brutality” of “What’s Going On” by the incredible singer Marvin Gaye. Sam Cooke expresses this feeling of change when he sings “It's been a long, a long time coming, /But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”. According to the verse “Picket lines and picket signs”, these songs are used in a way to protest against the injustices that were felt in the United States of America.

These two songs have an enormous relevancy with the topics studied in the English class because police brutality was one of the studied topics; also, one can find similar topics like discrimination and segregation against Black people. All these topics gave origin to the Civil Rights Movement and these two songs are precisely about these issues. It’s very important that people don’t forget that these problems are still present even if we can’t see it nowadays or we don’t feel their impact directly. At the time the songs were written, the situation in the United States was much worse than today. This was the major reason that inspired these two singers to compose the music. The authors felt the necessity to express themselves against the violence and hate that was happening against Black people and the way to voice it was through the songs.

The title of Sam Cooke’s song, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is related to the song because it expresses the feeling of hope for a change, especially for those who had their rights stepped on and as we know, these were the African Americans. The song expects for something that will come in the future and that will make things better.

The title of Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Going On” relates to the song because the composer asks himself what’s happening while he was witnessing the protest. Benson discussed what he witnessed with a friend and songwriter Al Cleveland, who in turn wrote and composed a song to reflect Benson's concerns. This song describes the current situation and the advantages for all the society if the dialogue takes place today, while the events are ongoing – the Vietnam War that was taking so many sons and brothers.

The image used on the first song is of a running river, referring to the Mississippi Delta where he experienced a poor life. This metaphor means that just like the river, his life passed running and with a lot of troubling times. One can read that on the verse “I was born by the river in a little tent / Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since”; this verse and the troubling waters refers to the violence and brutality that him and his people went through.

On the second song, the image used is of the American families that lost someone to the war and all the pain that they went through because their loved ones died: “Mother, mother / There’s too many of you crying”.

Both songs have a sad emotional content but on the first there’s more suffering: “It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die” and on the second is a feeling of lost due to all the families that lost someone beloved: “There’s too many of you crying...There’s far too many of you dying”. There is a feeling of hope on the first song, where the singer is hoping for a change that will come: “But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”.

The level of directness and indirectness differs on the two songs. On Sam Cooke’s, the level is indirect because the author is not addressing someone specific, but Blacks in general, meaning people turning him and others down publicly because they are black: “I go to the movie and I go downtown, Somebody keep tellin’ m don’t hang around” and on “What’s Going On” the level is direct because Marvin Gaye is addressing directly the families members: “Mother, Mother, / There’s too many of you crying, / Brother, brother, brother, / there’s far too many of you dying.... Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong”. On the other hand, both songs are indirect on the political message that they want to transmit. At the time, like today, everyone can deduct the true meaning and the true message due to the political context of the American society. Probably, the message was not too explicit to avoid that the writers or singers were accused of supporting civil rights movements opposing the current governmental practices.

There is a reflection on the relationship between the lyrics and the music because in the beginning of “A Change Is Gonna Come” the lyrics are as calm as the music but as the song continues, the lyrics start to have a stronger message and the music rhythm also accelerates. This song begins with a melodramatic playing of the strings and a horn.

With the first verse, Cooke is referring to the long waiting that Black people did “It's been a long time, a long time coming”. Further, on the verse “Then I go to my brother, / And I say brother help me please, / But he winds up knockin' me, / Back down on my knees” he is referring to the white population, that denied Blacks justice, civil rights and peace. The song of Marvin Gaye has a constant music rhythm with a very calm tone due to the perplexity of the composer – Benson, on the upsetting events of the period he was experiencing.

Soul music has its roots in traditional African-American gospel music and rhythm and blues and as the hybridization of their respective religious and secular styles – in both lyrical content and instrumentation – that began in the 1950s. The term 'soul' had been used among African-American musicians to emphasize the feeling of being an African-American in the United States.

Sam Cooke had a huge importance on Soul because he brought it to a new level and created a more elegant, clean style with his realistic lyrics and Gospel rooted voice. Because of his achievements and the impact his song had on America, he is remembered as the “King of Soul,” and the man who “sang the change”.


On my opinion these two extraordinary songs, written by famous singers who are no longer with us, are a true work of art, an incredible form of self-expression. And despite of their differences, both make the listener fly to the United States and reflect on such important and shocking issues as brutality, injustice and racism. The two songs address these highly relevant topics, which already had been studied in class such as The Civil Rights Movement and The Blues were born in the Mississippi Delta just like Sam Cooke.

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So many people are still singing Sam Cooke’s song nowadays. We still see change coming every day in negative and positive ways, but for sure music can be used as a Change agent. Many musicians still use music as a form of self-expression and protest. music has always followed American society together with its conflicts. These musicians were hoping to achieve some change in their lives and on those affected by the injustices felt at the time.


  1. Buskin, Richard. (2011, July). Marvin Gaye 'What's Going On?'. Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
  2. Sam Cooke and A Change is Gonna Come. (2017, Mar 21) Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
  3. Sam Cooke’s Civil Rights Anthem: “A Change Is Gonna Come”. (2014, March 11). Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
  4. Soul Music. (2019.) Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
  5. What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album). (2019). Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
  6. What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye song). (2019). Retrieved from [Accessed 29 May 2019].
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Analysis of African Music Songs From Race Discrimination Perspective. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“Analysis of African Music Songs From Race Discrimination Perspective.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022,
Analysis of African Music Songs From Race Discrimination Perspective. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
Analysis of African Music Songs From Race Discrimination Perspective [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from:
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