Songs Celebrating the Fight for Social Justice Filled the Air – A Review of the Concert for Social Justice
In their song “Ripple,” the Grateful Dead sang, “Let there be songs to fill the air.” On April 8 at Hollywood’s Fonda Theater, it was Social Justice songs that filled the air.
A star-studded cast contributed to making the Concert for Social Justice an outstanding event.
The David Crosby and Graham Nash opening number, “Long Time Gone,” best demonstrated the theme of the night.
“Speak out. You got to speak out against the madness.
You got to speak your mind if you dare.”
The GRAMMY Museum and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights co-sponsored this event to benefit their “Speak Up Sing Out: Songs of Conscience” program, which is a student music competition that encourages middle and high school students to become engaged in human rights by writing a song.
The night kicked off with the high energy of international Ghana-born reggae star and humanitarian activist Rocky Dawuni who performed his self-described “Afro-roots” sound, a fusion of reggae and Afro Beat groove, exhibited in “Shine a Light,’ from his new album, “Branches Of The Same Tree.”
Rocky had been re-tweeting my previous blog article about the Concert and I was fortunate to speak with him in the Lobby of the Fonda Theater after his performance. He thanked me for my article and I thanked him for his performance. Rocky is definitely someone to watch as his career takes off.
Rocky was followed by a reading from actor Dennis Haysbert, famous for his portray of the President on TV’s “24.” Between acts, the actors on hand delivered testimonials from international human rights leaders providing stories of struggles for justice around the world.
Then came LA’s own La Santa Cecilia playing a blend of music that included cumbia, bossa nova and boleros. Lead vocalist, Marisol Hernandez (aka La Marisoul) said, “Social justice music can also be good to dance to!” They also spoke about the need for immigration reform and about how deportations have a devastating impact on families who are torn apart.
We were treated to a dynamic version of the The Beatles “Strawberry Fields” that they dedicated to farmworkers and their stuggle.
Another testimonial reading followed by actress and political activist Alfre Woodward who recently starred in “12 Years a Slave.”
The intensity was turned up a couple of notches with the performance of Tom Morello.
Upon seeing a velvet roped off VIP section in front of the stage, Morello in his typical rabble rousing style, challenged the crowd and the concert promoters shouting, “Are we in this together?” a number of times. He demanded that the ropes come down, and they did, thus eliminating a make-shift class system within the audience.
“Now Tom said, “Ma, whenever ya see a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry new born baby cries
Wherever there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Ma, I’ll be there
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ for a place to stand
For a decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody is strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Ma, You’ll see me”
At one point, Morello pulled his guitar up to his mouth to play with his teeth revealing a sign “I Can’t Breath” pasted on the back of his guitar, in protest of the death of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old father of six, who died as a result of a chokehold applied by a NYC police officer who heartlessly ignored his plea.
He ended his set with “The Road I Must Travel” and his familiar message to the crowd, “Take it easy, but take it!”
Then came a joint reading by Billy Rae Cyrus, Chad Lowe, David Arquette and Martin Sheen.
Earlier I had the opportunity to speak with Martin Sheen and reminded him that one of his first public political speeches was at a Coalition for Economic Survival Rent Control Rally in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park in 1980.
I also was able to speak a bit with Chad Lowe in the lobby of the Fonda.
Next up was Melissa Etheridge, who spoke as a cancer survivor about the importance of legalizing medical marijuana use. “I have come out of the closet as a gay person,” Etheridge said. “I’m also coming out of the closet as a cannabis user — surprise!”
She said, “Social justice starts with the individual. That’s how we make change.”
“Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!”
Then came Nash’s song “Chicago (We Can Change the World),” written about the “Chicago 8” trial, where protest leaders at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were charged with intent to incite a riot. The first line of the song refers to Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, the only African-American plaintiff, who was actually gagged and bound to a chair in the courtroom.
“Though your brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Just to sing?
In a land that’s known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair?
Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring?
We can change the world
Rearrange the world
It’s dying to get better.”
Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter and President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and Bob Santelli, Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum then introduced Jade Rhodes, the winner of their “Speak Up, Sing Out” contest. A student at Los Angeles’ Brentwood School, she wrote and performed her song called “Invisible” about the plight of a Darfur war refugee.
Kennedy said that in organizing this concert the first person they thought of to ask was Jackson Browne. She said that not only did he immediately say yes, he called his friends to join him.
“Far from the arms of hunger
Far from the world disorder
Beyond the reach of war
There is a world where we belong”
With the concert’s artists returning to the stage for the encore finale, Tom Morello stated that, “No social justice concert would be complete without a Woody Guthrie anthem. Whether you’re of the Occupy Wall Street generation or the Aquarius generation … This land is your land!”
Concluding this trip from the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, Morello shouted out “The future is unwritten!” The crowd then dispersed into the Hollywood night having experienced a magnificent concert, and, more importantly, hopefully inspired to become active and involved in the ongoing fight for economic and social justice.
Written by Larry Gross