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Protest Songs
Grades: 6-12

Selections: I Love Coal Miners, I Do
Recorded: New York City, NY (November 1937)
Performers: Aunt Molly Jackson

Activity 1: Form for a Protest Song (Musical)

  1. Attentive (listening): Listen to the first two verses of the song, noticing anything that repeats
  2. Engaged (listening):
    • Listen to the same excerpt again and now write any phrase that is repeated
    • Add verses 3 and 4 listening for the same repeated phrase. If a new phrase is repeated, write it down also (this draws attention to the form of the piece and the appearance of a repeating chorus)
    • Follow along to the text for the second verse of the song bringing attention to the length of phrases 1, 2 and 4. Are the phrases the same or different? How long is line 3 in comparison? Characterize the form of each of these verses: (AABA) Notice how the performer connects each verse:
      1 I love coal miners, I do (A)
      2 I love coal miners, I do (A)
      3 I’ve lived among them all their lives, (B)
      With their children and their wives.
      4 I dearly love a coal-mining man (A)
  3. Enactive (listening, performing) After listening to the song a few times the form of the piece emerges as a simple AABA song form. There is not a lot of text and many lines are repeated or similar. Sing along with the recording on verse two as given above paying attention to the simple melody as well. Challenge the students to sing the whole song with Aunt Molly. The entire text is included below:

    I’m nine hundred miles away from home,
    I’m nine hundred miles away from home,
    I’m nine hundred miles away from my home,
    I love coal miners, I do.

    I love coal miners, I do.
    I Love coal miners, I do.
    I’ve lived among them all their lives,
    With their children and their wives.
    I dearly love a coal-mining man.

    My father was a coal-mining man,
    My father was a coal-mining man,
    Then it out to be plain for you to understand
    Just why I love a coal-mining man.

    I love coal miners, I do.
    I love coal miners, I do.
    I’ve lived among them all their lives,
    With their children and their wives.
    And I’ll love them till the day I die.
    I’ve two brothers dead and gone,
    I’ve two brothers dead and gone.
    One was killed by the slate falling down,
    I love coal miners I do.

    I love coal miners, I do.
    I love coal miners, I do.
    I’ve lived with them all their lives
    With their children and their wives.
    I dearly love a coal-mining man.

    I’m nine hundred miles away from home,
    I’m nine hundred miles away from home,
    I’m nine hundred miles away from home,
    I love coal miners, I do.

  4. Creative (performing, improvising, composing)*
    • In small groups or individually, students compose lyrics to their own protest song to go along with Aunty Molly’s melody
    • Brainstorm topics that the students could protest about – food in the cafeteria to serious topics like racism or immigration, the sky is the limit
      • Use the model of repeating lines of text so that the students only have to come up with short phrases that will fit within the structure of the sample song
    • Take turns providing text from students and performing songs for each other in the classroom

    Transcription of I love Coal Miners, I do as performed by Aunt Molly Jackson: New York, 1937

    * Note: Before the students work on their composition, it would be best to teach the cultural, historical, and stylistic context of the music. See Activity 2 below.

Activity 2: Contextual – Coal mining and protest songs in Kentucky

  1. Protest Songs – Lead students through a discussion on protest songs
    1. A protest song is a song that is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs (or songs connected to current events)
    2. It may be folk (as is demonstrated here with the above example), classical, or commercial in genre. Popular songs could be brainstormed at this time, and even a discussion on other folk singers such as Woody Guthrie to inform a longer dialogue on the subject.
    3. Among social movements that have an associated body of songs are the abolition movement, women's suffrage, the labor movement (which Kentucky coal mining protest songs encompass) the human rights movement, civil rights, the anti-war movement and 1960s counterculture, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, animal rights movement, vegetarianism and veganism, and environmentalism.
  2. Kentucky and coal mining: a short history
    1. At the turn of the 20th century the Appalachian mountain region of which Kentucky is a part of transitioned from a primarily farm based economy to coal mining
    2. Because the land was so mountainous and secluded, mining companies were able to set up towns in which the economy depended solely on the mine
      1. Conditions were poor – dangerous working conditions, unhealthy environment, squalid housing, no options but the company store for food and necessities
      2. The people were dependent on the mine company for everything
    3. 1920s and the depression saw a decreased demand for coal and mine owners cut hours and wages of their already poor employees
      1. Miners were courted by labor organizers to establish unions (National Miners Union was active at this time)
        1. They handed out food and clothes to the miners
        2. The companies fought back against the unions and blacklisted union members often using force to encourage them to not join
  3. Aunt Molly
    1. Go to the website: xroads.virginia.edu/~MA05/luckey/amj/kentucky.htm and read about the history of Aunty Molly
      1. Where did her name originate?
      2. What sort of hardships did she face that informed her song writing?
      3. What sparked her desire to take up the cause of helping out the miners in Kentucky?
  4. Extension exercises:
    1. Read about the Bloody Harlan coal mining strike of 1931 that sets the stage for the work of Aunty Molly and other union organizers. (sites.google.com/site/americanlaborcrises/labor-crises/-bloody-harlan-strike) What is the connection of their struggles with any modern day plights of workers or people facing oppression?
    2. Search the internet to find pictures of the coal mining towns in eastern Kentucky
    3. Research other famous protest song writers and their causes
    4. What is the situation like in eastern Kentucky today? Read this article: www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/magazine/whats-the-matter-with-eastern-kentucky.html?_r=0
Lesson plan designed by Meg Stohlmann

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