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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opens new social justice exhibit

Posted at 4:09 PM, Jul 26, 2020
and last updated 2021-02-03 10:47:12-05

CLEVELAND — The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened its newest exhibit, dedicated to showcasing musical trailblazers who have used their talents to speak out against social injustices and inequality over the years.

The “It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope & Empowerment” exhibit highlights artists and musical moments that have changed the world and showcases how musical artists have used rock and roll to respond to racism.

"Musicians have been creating this music, responding to these and reacting to what's happened in our society, whether it's in this country globally. You can find thousands and thousands of songs," said Nwaka Onwusa, vice president at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rock Hall inductees such as Chuck Berry, Billie Holiday, Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Nina Simone and Arthea Franklin paved the way for speaking out for equality. Over the years they have been followed by other artists who continue to work to bring awareness to social injustices, including Public Enemy, N.W.A, Rage Against the Machine, Tupac Shakur, Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé.

Some of the artifacts on display in the exhibit include:

  • Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” lyrics. The political anthem was revisited in 2020 to address the current landscape and recognize the recent protests and rallies.
  • N.W.A.’s jacket reflecting the relevance of their single “F*ck tha Police.”
  • Aretha Franklin’s Valentino dress worn during her first appearance at Radio City Music Hall, where she sang “Respect,” which became an anthem for the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements.
  • A jumpsuit worn by James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul” who brought motion to the Civil Rights Movement with style.
  • 1973 Wattstax film poster representing a cross-section of Black music from gospel to pop and was the largest gathering of African Americans during that time.
  • Handwritten lyrics from songwriter and rapper D Smoke, “Let Go” recorded hours before the killing of George Floyd, and recently performed live for the first time on the 2020 BET Awards.

The Rock Hall held a special event for the opening of the social justice exhibit Saturday, including spoken word and live music performances.

"This is our history. This is who we are as human beings don't care, black, white, Mexican, Chinese, whatever. This is our story as human beings. This is a part of the history," said Onwusa.

The new exhibit is found on the Lower Level of the museum.

To learn more, click here.