PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In 2016, Beyoncé’s song “Formation” and accompanying “Lemonade” visual album combined overt political statements with references to African diasporic culture and Black Christianity, revealing close ties between Black American religious traditions and the Black Lives Matter movement. That faith and protest could be so closely interwoven surprised many — but not Charrise Barron.
As an assistant professor of Africana studies and music at Brown University, Barron studies Black music traditions from gospel to spirituals to hymns to hip hop — so she knows that music and Black American resistance have gone hand in hand since before the country’s founding. Black Americans, Barron said, have leveraged the power of music to point enslaved people toward freedom, to unite coalitions of protesters in the Civil Rights Era, and most recently, to persuade millions to fight against anti-Black racism and police violence. These and other music-driven movements will be fodder for discussion in her two Spring 2022 courses, Social Justice and the Musical Afrofuture and the graduate-level Black Movement Music.
In advance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 17, and ahead of a Feb. 15 discussion on Race & Music in America where she is a featured speaker, Barron shared insights on the centuries-long relationship between Black American music and social justice movements throughout history and offered thoughts on how the Black Lives Matter movement could employ music to unite people around its cause.
Q: How did you find a career at the intersection of faith, music and social justice?
I grew up attending church in Houston. As a kid, I fell in love with gospel music. I played various instruments in church, and I’m still a musician today. In college, however, I concentrated in computer science, and I pursued a career in business systems analysis. After a while, seeking ordination for Christian ministry led me to seminary. That’s where I realized I could focus on the study of sacred music as a profession, and I began to study not only gospel but other forms of Black music.