Rock Hall Exhibit Turns Up Volume On Voices Of Rage, Hope And Empowerment
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Director of Curatorial Affairs Nwaka Onwusa had been planning to mount an exhibit showcasing rock’s role in the fight for racial equality. But, the news cycle over the last several months made it clear it was time to speed up the process leading to “It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope and Empowerment,” which is now on view.
Onwusa said the exhibit is a perfect fit for what the Rock Hall does when it comes to highlighting the music’s history.
“It is a part of our mission to tell stories and an opportunity for us to really amplify the collection, the voices and the music that speak to equality for all. The music has always been a soundtrack to every social movement, so this is a great time for that music to come to the surface,” Onwusa said.
Nat Cole-1958 [Chuck Stewart Estate/Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]
“It’s Been Said All Along” showcases artifacts from both legendary performers including Nat Cole, Little Richard and Nina Simone, as well as contemporary artists ranging from N.W.A. to Kendrick Lamar.
Among the items on view is the gown Aretha Franklin wore during her first appearance at Radio City Music Hall where she performed “Respect.” Visitors can also see rapper D Smoke’s handwritten lyrics to “Let Go” which he recorded the day of George Floyd’s death.
James Brown's jumpsuit [Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]
A jumpsuit worn by James Brown is on display. Onwusa said Brown’s music embodies rage and hope but in particular empowerment through his songs including “Say It Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “ I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing,” and “Soul Power.”
Onwusa said she felt that it was particularly important to include the lyrics to Public Enemy’s hit “Fight the Power” in the exhibit.
“That song was recently revisited just last month on the BET Awards. These messages are sadly still relevant and very poignant for right now,” Onwusa said.
Photographs also make up a key part of “It’s Been Said All Along.” Onwusa wanted to avoid the familiar photos of African-Americans being attacked by police dogs and water hoses for a different set of images.
Billie Holiday The Tiffany Club, Los Angeles, 1952 [Tom & Ethel Bradley Center at California State University, Northridge / Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]
“You will see these musicians and artists performing eloquently through segregation. We look at the timeline of when musicians are making this music. Billie Holiday, who is featured, that's 1939, but still looking absolutely stunning, but still having overcome these daily struggles as being a Black woman in America,” Onwusa said.
The exhibit is currently on view in the hall, but it will be available for virtual tours in September.
Singer Nina Simone [Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]
Onwusa hopes that people enjoy the exhibit, but also come away with a better understanding of the role music has played in calling for social justice.
“When people come to see this exhibit, definitely the terms of learning and acting in a way that only propels change and equality for all is definitely the feelings that we want folks to walk away with. And that's all done through the power of rock and roll,” Onwusa said.