Soundtrack ‘63 is a live, multimedia musical performance and retrospective of the African-American experience in America. It is an artistic survey of the past that gives context to the present and asks important questions about our future. Commissioned by 651 ARTS and produced by Soul Science Lab, the show features a soundtrack of spirituals, protest songs, hip hop, and popular 20th-century music performed by an 18-piece orchestra and a soul-stirring vocal ensemble. An immersive video installation weaves a compelling story of tragedy, triumph, and transcendence. Soundtrack '63 is an intergenerational experience that will inspire us all.
1963 was decades in the making. The events specific to 1963 and the American Civil Rights Movement have roots across the entire history of the black experience in America. Since the abolition of slavery in 1865 and the beginning of the Reconstruction Era in 1877, various institutions in American society sanctioned institutionalized discrimination that impeded the will and progress of freed African-Americans. It was supported by state and federal legislation and enforced ad nauseam by society at large. Even as African-Americans struggled against injustice, this reality remained the status quo.
Black Americans have continuously organized to change their status in American society, but the events of the mid to late 1950s, through the early 1960s, saw a surge in the African-American movement for civil and human rights. 1954 brought the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. 1955 saw outrage after the horrific murder of Emmett Till, and hope, following the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 1957 raised the stakes with the school integration of the Little Rock 9 and the Freedom Riders pushed the envelope to its very volatile limits in 1961. All of this set the stage for the saga of 1963.
In 365 days, the United States experienced many pivotal events including massive anti-discrimination demonstrations and social justice campaigns throughout the South, the assassination of civil rights worker Medgar Evers, the iconic “March on Washington for Jobs”, the murder of 4 little girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and preparation for war in Vietnam. Many of the nation’s people were pushing for substantial change. Music was a vital part of the protest.
Black music has always reflected the reality in which black people lived. This period of intense turmoil inspired timeless songs of struggle and endurance. The music of 1963 was the soundtrack of a transformation. It inspired generations of African descendants to reclaim their humanity. The spirituals of the past brought faith and courage; pop tunes were an escape from harsh realities; truth-tellers sang with soulful defiance that electrified the Civil Rights Movement. The music of this time still resonates with piercing clarity. Many who were a part of these movements for change often claim the music that defined this time gave them the motivation and courage to remain steadfast in their daunting efforts.
ST63 was designed to give youth a clear historical context for the national and global climate regarding race and human relations in contemporary society. Young people are often disconnected from history that directly affects them. They must be prepared to approach these issues with a creative lens and unorthodox solutions. As an educator, I’ve learned this is only possible when youth are effectively engaged to see themselves reflected in the historical continuum and motivated to activate their spheres of influence. This is the impetus of ST63.
This production presents significant historical events, using creative and innovative methods, to diverse and intergenerational audiences. It is designed to juxtapose poignant history to parallel contemporary stories. The project posits, “If we have come so far, how far have we come?” As they struggle to reconcile American history persists, it is important for the next generation of leaders and creators to understand the complexities of the social dynamics they have inherited. This is especially true racism, discrimination, and bias that rests at the core of American culture and the related struggles that continue to plague people of color in the United States.
While ST63 surveys flashpoints of the Civil Rights Movement, it brings understanding to events that precede it. It contemplates the realities of the aftermath of that era. It embodies the spirit of the Ashante’ principle Sankofa - ‘Seek the past to understand the present and build for the future.’