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Civil rights movement

THE FREEDOM SINGERS

The Freedom Singers were a musical group active between 1962 and 1966, singing “freedom songs” in order to fundraise and organise on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The Freedom Singers emerged out of the Albany Movement (a desegregation and voters' rights coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961), when folk singer Pete Seeger witnessed the power of their musical culture, fusing black Baptist a cappella church singing with protest songs and chants, and suggested to SNCC executive secretary James Forman that a group could be of use to the cause. 

By the end of the year, a group was organised consisting of Reagon, Bernice Johnson, Rutha Harris, and Charles Neblett, occasionally joined by Bertha Gober. They were all trained musicians as well as SNCC field secretaries.

They started out touring colleges, high schools and house parties, performing songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”.

One of their largest performances was a SNCC fundraiser with gospel artist Mahalia Jackson and the Newport Folk Festival, where they acted as a backup choir for other artists such as Bob Dylan. 

In August 1963, they were the only group of movement-affiliated song leaders to perform at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Their increasing exposure led Mercury Records to sign them to a recording contract; they recorded a studio album in October 1963.

By 1965 the Freedom Singers were also performing at anti-war protests, before taking a turn towards black separatism. 

The group disbanded in 1966.