Musical artist Bruce Springsteen is quoted as citing singer and social activist Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flower’s Gone?” as examples of musical pieces “directly aimed at socially, politically conscious people and are important in the same way hymns are important in church. It makes us stronger in our beliefs. And in a certain moment, the right song can start a fire,” he said.
Seeger was one of the folk singers responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome,” that became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Seeger stated it was he who changed the lyric from the traditional “We will overcome” to the more sing-able “We shall overcome”.
In the 1960s, Bob Dylan became the “voice of a generation,” when his most celebrated works, like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” became anthems for both the Civil Rights and the anti-war movements.
Singer Mavis Staples once expressed astonishment on first hearing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and said she could not understand how a young white man could write something that captured the frustration and aspirations of black people so powerfully.
The most commercially successful version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” was recorded by folk artists Peter, Paul and Mary.
In Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, biographer Peter Guralnick states that the R&B singer was motivated to write his civil rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come,” after hearing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
“He was so carried away with the message, and the fact that a white boy had written it, that… he was almost ashamed not to have written something like that himself.”
Cooke quickly added the song to his own performance repertoire.
The National Journal named Bono, lead singer and songwriter for the Irish rock band U2, the most politically effective celebrity of all time in 2011. His lyrics are known for their social and political themes, and for their religious imagery inspired by his Christian beliefs. The imagery found in several of U2’s songs served as inspiration for the U2Charist, a communion service accompanied by the music of U2.
Bono has extensively campaigned for third-world debt relief and raising awareness of extreme poverty and the AIDS pandemic in Africa. He leverages his celebrity as an opportunity to meet with influential politicians, church leaders and other philanthropists to bring about change.
Lady Gaga is widely known for her philanthropic work and social activism, including LGBTQ rights. Her non-profit organization, the Born This Way Foundation, named after her 2011 hit song and launched in 2012, focuses on promoting youth empowerment and combating bullying. She has also donated extensively to disaster relief efforts and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The U2Charist was born in the Episcopal Church. First developed by Sarah Dylan Breuer in 2003, a U2Charist is a Eucharist service accompanied by the music of the rock band U2 instead of traditional hymns. The first U2Charist was first conducted in Baltimore, Maryland, in April 2004. With its messages of global reconciliation and justice for the poor and oppressed, the U2Charist has since spread worldwide.
Churches who hold the U2charist do not have to pay licensing fees for using U2’s music on the condition that the church donates any money raised by the service to charities benefiting the Millennium Development Goals.
A class at a nearby theological seminary titled, “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible,” inspired organizers at San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral to host its first-ever “Beyoncé Mass,” featuring the singer’s music and social philosophies.
Secular headlines suggested that people were coming to church to worship “Queen Bey,” and others dismissed it as a publicity stunt to get people to come back to church. But the April 25 service, part of a three-part series at Grace called “Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community,” centered around preaching that spotlighted the voices of the oppressed and celebrated the achievements of black women.
The service drew over 900 participants and garnered rave reviews by those in attendance.