The project, set to be released a year after Floyd’s death, follows a long history of racial justice messages and protest slogans spilling over into American music.
New York • Ahead of a late-night rehearsal in December, Terrence Floyd couldn’t remember the last time he’d perched on a drum stool, sticks in hand and ready to perform.
Certainly, he said, that hasn’t happened since his brother George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis last May, sparking a global reckoning on systemic racism and police brutality.
Now Terrence is lending a talent he honed as a youth in a church band to produce and promote an upcoming album of protest anthems inspired by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations sparked in part by the death of his brother.
“I want to pay my respects to my brother in any way I can, whether it’s a march, just talking to someone about him, or doing what I do and playing the drums,” Terrence told The Associated Press .
“His heartbeat has stopped,” he said, “but I can beat for him.”
The untitled project, set to be released a year after George Floyd’s death, follows a long history of racial justice messages and protest slogans spilling over into American popular music and culture. Music in particular has been a vehicle for raising awareness of grassroots movements, often carrying desperate pleas or angry battle cries over the airwaves.
Terrence was recruited for the project by Rev. Kevin McCall, a civil rights activist who said he didn’t think an album of street-inspired protest anthems existed yet.
“These protest chants that were created were monumental,” McCall said. “It created a movement and not a moment.”
Some songs make bold statements, like the lead single from the protest anthem album No Justice No Peace. The well-known protest refrain, which became popular in the US in the 1980s, is something millennials grew up listening to before they came to the forefront of their generation’s civil rights movement, McCall said.
McCall is featured on the track along with his fiancé, singer Malikka Miller, and choir members from Brooklyn’s Grace Tabernacle Christian Center. The song is currently available for purchase and streaming on iTunes, Amazon Music and YouTube.
Godfather Records, a label owned and operated by Grace Tabernacle Christian Center pastor David Wright, plans to release the seven-song album. His late father, Timothy Wright, is considered the “Godfather of Gospel Music”.
“We mix gospel music with social justice to reach the masses,” Wright said. “We’ve always been empowered by songs like ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘Wade in the Water.’ I want to give it a new twist.”
There is a history of the interplay between music and black protest. The 1991 caning of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers – as well as the contemporary “war on drugs” – reinforced the 1988 NWA anthem, “F(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) tha Police” and Public Enemys Fight the Power, released in 1989. More recently, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”, Beyoncé’s “Freedom” with Lamar, and YG’s “FDT” provided a soundtrack for many BLM protests.
Legendary musician and activist Stevie Wonder released his hit song “Happy Birthday” in 1980 as part of a campaign to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday. King’s Day, which had faced years of opposition at the national level, was officially recognized in 1986, three years after it had won federal legislature support.
Some historians credit Billie Holiday’s musical rendition of Abel Meeropol’s 1939 poem “Strange Fruit” as one of the sparks of the civil rights movement. The song chronicles in devastating detail the era of lynching that was perpetrated against black Americans decades after the abolition of slavery, often as a means to terrorize and oppress those who sought racial equality.
The new film, United States vs. Billie Holiday, follows the jazz luminary’s real-life struggle to perform the song despite opposition from government officials. Singer-actress Andra Day, who portrays Holiday in the film, recently told the AP that the song’s meaning influenced her decision to take on the role.
“She sang this anti-government song that revived the movement,” Day said. “And that was really an incentive for me.”
Todd Boyd, the Katherine and Frank Price endowed chair in racial and popular culture at the University of Southern California, said many of the most well-known protest chants originated in the civil rights and Black Power movements, and then inspired songs.
“That’s how culture works,” Boyd said. “Something that starts in one space can very easily grow into something bigger and broader if the movement itself is influential.”
Terrence Floyd said the protest anthem project was a fitting way to honor his brother’s memory. For many years before his death, George Floyd dabbled in music — he was occasionally invited to rap on mixtapes produced by DJ Screw, a fixture on the local Houston hip-hop scene.
“When his music couldn’t make it out of Houston, I use my Floyd musical skills to reach out to people on his behalf,” Terrence said.
AP entertainment reporter Jamia Pugh in Philadelphia contributed.
Morrison is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.