Pop Songs to Celebrate Juneteenth
By bonneville on June 16, 2023
Juneteenth marks the celebration of the dismantling of chattel slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas were informed of their freedom by Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Grange. This was 2 years after the passage of the Emancipation Act in 1863 and 2 months after the Confederacy surrendered on April 9, ending the Civil War. At the time, around 4 million people were enslaved domestically.
After that, each region celebrated the end of slavery on different days, but the celebrations that started in Galveston, Texas, began to grow year after year. Over 100 years later, Texas would become the first state to declare June 19 a state holiday in 1980. Utah formally recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday during the 2022 legislative session after the passage of HB 238, though it was informally recognized in 2016 with the passage of HB 338. In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
Juneteenth Jubilee is a celebration of song, dance, and food. Black spirituals such as “Go Down Moses,” “Many Thousands Gone,” and others were sung at the first Jubilee in 1866, with a fireworks display on par with Fourth of July celebrations. For African Americans, this is their independence day.
The spirit of Juneteenth honors the history of those who were enslaved and the continued struggle for freedom from oppression that many Black Americans continue to face. Songs sung by slaves were an act of protest and a way to transcend the realities of the horrors they faced. To honor the day, we highlight a few songs that both celebrate and uplift this history.
Check out the upcoming Juneteenth Festival events to celebrate this holiday from the Utah Division of Cultural Affairs. Featured celebrations include music performances, film screenings and discussions, a parade, storytelling workshops, and more.
Sister Sledge – We Are Family
This song promotes familial connections to fans and fellow listeners when it comes on. The song also represents the closeness of the sisters who make up the group Sister Sledge, who sang together recreationally after learning how to sing at church from their grandma, who was an opera singer.
Beyoncé – Black Parade
Released on June 19, 2020, Beyoncé wrote this song as an anthem for Juneteenth that celebrates her Southern heritage.
Chaka Khan – Can’t Stop the Street
Featured on the soundtrack for “Krush Groove”, this 1985 bop celebrates street parties and spontaneous dancing.
Alicia Keys – Lift Every Voice and Sing
Commonly known as the “Black National Anthem,” this song inspires courage to fight for justice and a better future. It was first published as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, who was the principal of Edwin M. Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson wrote it for a special event to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and welcome the guest speaker, Booker T. Washington. Five years later, his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, added a score to it, and it quickly became a popular hymn in Black schools and churches.
Lauryn Hill – That Thing
“That Thing” was a huge hit when it was released as the breakout track from “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1998, reaching #1 on the Billboard chart. The album touches on the education that one receives outside of school from life, and it was written, produced, arranged, and sung entirely by Hill. The beat samples the 1971 song “Together Let’s Find Love” by The 5th Dimension.
India.Arie – Brown Skin
“Brown Skin” celebrates Black love, and is the second single released in 2001 by India.Arie from her debut album, “Acoustic Soul.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith – Summertime
Released in the summer of 1991, this song is still a seasonal classic to ring in the summer months. It samples “Summer Madness” by Kool & The Gang.
Kool & the Gang – Celebration
A staple at any sort of party or gathering, “Celebration” was released in 1980 and has not stopped playing since. According to Genius, the song was inspired by a line in the Quran, specifically “the passage where God was creating Adam, and the angels were celebrating and singing praises.”
Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ Bout a Revolution
Though “Fast Car” may arguably be Chapman’s best-known track, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” made international waves, becoming a staple at protests, civil rallies, and sit-ins around the world since it was released. The song was released in 1988 during the height of protests against apartheid in South Africa, and was the second single from Chapman’s self-titled album.