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The Return of the Protest Song


In 1964, Bob Dylan, author of the early-1960s protest anthem “Blowin in the Wind” and one of the most celebrated political singers of his generation, explained to critic Nat Hentoff that he no longer wished to be known as a protest singer. In his words: “Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore – you know, be a spokesman. From now on, I want to write from inside me.” He insisted, “I’m not part of no movement.”

Dylan’s turn from political songs to ostensibly more personal ones not only marked an important moment in his career, but also anticipated the commercial backlash in the 1970s against music that explicitly aligned itself with the Civil Rights Movement. In contrast to his ongoing success in the following decade, other singers that we associate with the protest song tradition like Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln, often found their careers stalled and record…

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