The power of music to inspire political movement is examined in the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit, Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics, which runs May 20 through Nov. 27.
"[Music] is a power that hits you emotionally," says Karen L. Herman, vice president of collections and curatorial affairs. "It has the power to change the way you think and the way you feel and unite everyone for a common cause."
Spread over three museum levels, the exhibit explores Eisenhower Era "coded" protest songs including Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," which was secretly about skin color, to more overt present-day Black Lives Matter movement songs such as Prince's "Baltimore," which uses images from protests of Freddie Gray's death by police and other victims' families including Tamir Rice's mother, Samaria, in its video.
Planned before Cleveland won the Republican National Convention, the collection will move to the Newseum, a partner on the exhibit, in Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration. We play up three notable items.
John Lennon Acoustic Guitar, 1969
During their second bed-in in Montreal, Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote and recorded "Give Peace a Chance" on this original Gibson guitar, which features scribbled caricatures of the duo. "It was about the Vietnam War, but it was really about peace always," Herman says. "They had their friends sing with them. It really speaks to the communal nature of music."
Bruce Springsteen outfit and hat, 1984
The Boss dons the signature outfit in front of an American flag on the cover of his landmark album Born in the U.S.A. The song is often misinterpreted. "It's a song of how Vietnam War veterans were treated," Herman says. "But at the same time, it's still a patriotic song in that, How can we treat people like this who have gone to serve our country?"
Letter from FBI to Priority Records, 1989
N.W.A.'s seminal Straight Outta Compton album, recently made into a biopic, addresses themes we're grappling with today: racial profiling and police brutality. The FBI wasn't a fan: "Advocating violence and assault is wrong," read the letter. "The FBI knew how important music was, that it can change minds," Herman says.