Lesson Plan Ten (Student Resources)

Women and Musical Activism.


When asked to identify a few leading figures who have fought for social change, most people name men. But there have also been many women in the forefront of change, including “entertainers” who have used their music to challenge, organize and inspire.  By examining the life of female singer and activist Barbara Dane, students will be asked to consider which is more important: your beliefs or money and success.


Barbara Dane (born May 12, 1927) is an American folk, blues, and jazz singer from Detroit.  After high school, she often sang at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. She did sit-ins with bands around town and won the interest of music promoters. She was offered a tour, but turned it down in favor of singing at factory gates and in union halls. She moved to Los Angeles, where she worked with Lenny Bruce and sang regularly at the “Ash Grove,” and then moved to San Francisco, where she opened her own club, “Sugar Hill: Home of the Blues.” She continued to sing with every important blues and jazz musician of the day, while producing 50 LPs of world music on her own label, Paredon. She stepped up her work for peace and justice as the struggle for civil rights spread and the Vietnam War escalated. She continued singing at peace demonstrations around the world and is still alive at the time of publishing (adapted from Barbara Dane’s website).