The Freedom Singers: Their History and Legacy for Music Education

Congratulations to Dr. Deanna Frith Weber, who has recently submitted the final version of her dissertation for a doctorate degree in music education from Boston University. Her dissertation is entitled The Freedom Singers: Their History and Legacy for Music Education. Based on interpretation of both original interviews and archival data, this unique study profiles Albany, Georgia’s influential Freedom Singers of the Civil Rights era, and proposes ways that African-American music from this important movement may be effectively used by contemporary educators.

Dr. Weber is an accomplished vocalist and Assistant Professor of Music at Albany State University in Georgia. It was a pleasure to serve on Dr. Weber’s doctoral advisory committee along with Dr. Patti Tolbert of Georgia College and her supervisory professor Dr. Richard Bunbury, of Boston University. Congratulations, Dr. Weber!

Here is the abstract of Dr. Weber's dissertation study:

The original Freedom Singers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were a group of four young African-Americans, formed in Georgia in 1962, who traveled throughout the United States serving as musical ambassadors for the southern civil rights movement. This is a study of their history, music, and influence. The late 1950s and 1960s was an era of tremendous social upheaval throughout the country; however, this study will focus on the political and musical events which took place in the Deep South, namely Albany, Georgia and the surrounding area. Its cultural landscape was significantly changed by the civil rights era, in which song played an integral part. These changes also had an effect on music education in K-12 classrooms, as school desegregation brought together African Americans and whites, who for the most part, had existed separately from one another, despite their close geographic proximity.

The story of the SNCC Freedom Singers unfolds through interviews with members of the original group, as well as other participants in the Albany Movement (a coalition of workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and local citizens’ groups). Interviews were also conducted with people from the area whose lives were impacted by Movement activities
. Pertinent source material from archives, library collections, and museums supports an authentic historical narrative. The study also focuses on implications for music education, regarding a variety of issues such as racism, tolerance, and respect for various peoples and cultures. In order to consider the extent to which the civil rights repertory, including freedom songs, is currently in use in music classrooms, particularly in areas of the Deep South, a qualitative survey questionnaire was sent to music teachers in public elementary and middle/junior high schools in five targeted counties in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina. Data was analyzed using frequency tables, and coded using a grounded theory approach. These findings illuminate possibilities for further research into such areas as cross-disciplinary learning, teacher training, and the continuing incorporation into the school music curriculum of the diverse array of cultural musics found in the United States.

Here is a link to Dr. Weber's website: