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February is African American Heritage Month and WERS AT NIGHT is honoring one artist or one song every day this month that helped contribute to social consciousness, political responsibility, or civil rights. At WERS, we believe that these songs are always bigger than just entertainment; music can be used to drive a movement or even motivate a nation.
When one thinks of The Beatles, automatically things like Abbey Road, concerts on rooftops, thousands of screaming girls, and LSD are first to pop in the brain. The Beatles continue to reign as Pop/Rock N Roll royalty; their songs are covered more than any other band. A favorite song to cover is “Blackbird” (covered by Sarah McLachlan, Dave Grohl, and Chris Colfer [Glee]), which has a deeper meaning than one’s expectation. With a great song comes exceptional writing: Paul McCartney penned “Blackbird” while he was in Scotland and he was reading a newspaper article on the escalating race riots in the United States.
In the 1960s African Americans were being ostracized from the white people (specifically in the Southern states, like Alabama and Arkansas). White people went to extreme measures to keep the blacks separate from them by designating “Black Only” bathrooms, schools, stores, and even seats on public transportation. This injustice sparked McCartney’s mind to write a beautifully poetic song about being able to see the fight for independence, and “learn to fly.” There were only three sounds recorded: Paul’s voice, his acoustic guitar, and dubbed birds.
“Blackbird” is a song about the oppression of African Americans, but it is also a song about hope. McCartney creates such a mesmerizing symbol in this song by personifying the outcast African Americans as broken-winged birds learning to fly. McCartney gives this blackbird the powers of a phoenix, rising from its ashes, now free from harm. This classic Beatles song will always be a legacy in the African American community.