54 Best Protest Songs of All Time

image of protest music artists


Definition - Protest songs, political music, or anti songs are typically related to an economic, political, social, racial or religious change. It doesn’t necessarily have to have words, and it may be any number of genres - folk, soul, spiritual music, classical, or a combination of genres.

Protest songs and great American political music artists have always been part of American culture. Jazz musicians have pushed against the grain, but over the years several musicians have implemented social issues and activism in their music. There are so many ways to protest; history has often highlighted rallies, demonstrations, and marches. But one of the least aggressive yet most powerful methods to protest is through music and poetry.

Protest songs have provided hope for those without a voice and courage for people to stand up when they would rather stay on the side line. Protest music is the American anthem. Protest music is the salt of American culture!

Only a few musicians attracted as much praise and criticism during their careers as Nina Simone. Despite her constant battle with what her audience wanted to hear and what she was often convicted to create, Simone is one of the greatest musicians in American history.

Her sound always included a deep spiritual undertone. She was and still is one of music most prominent pianists and musicians not because of her undeniable talent but rather her convictions included in her music.  She forced you to get with the program! Nina could not be categorized by genre often crossing the line of folk, jazz, classical, blues and soul all in one song.

Simone had a profound impact on music because she dared to be different, her music may not have been categorized as protest music but that’s what it was.  Her improvisation gave listeners something new each time she performed, and her vocal delivery was direct, soulful, powerful and real. 

While I prefer to  use “songs about freedom” versus protest music, protest music does provide clarity. Like Nina, many other artists championed for equality, civil rights and against oppression. 

I have listed 53 of the best protest songs ever produced. Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comment section. Check out the Spotify playlist!


  1. Lauryn Hill - I Get Out - A classic as soon as it hit the stage! Ms. Lauryn Hill breaking away from the mainstream music industry, a powerful powerful dissertation about breaking free. Protest music, yes, but I would simply call it freedom music. Listen now!
  2. Common & John Legend - Black America Again
  3. Stephen Marley - Mind Control 
  4. Andra Day - Rise Up 
  5. Childish Gambino - This Is America: Donald Glover’s take on the current 2018 state of America 
  6. Talib Kweli & Mary J. Blige - I Try 
  7. Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Listen to Gil!
  8. Femi Kuti - Tension Grip Africa: Listen to this and you feel the power. Definitely one for the treadmill or stair master! 
  9. Hugh Masekela - Stimela: Born in South Africa, Hugh Masekela talks about the crowded coal trains.
  10. Bob Marley & The Waiters - Zimbabwe - Listen to Bob Marley on Spotify!
  11. Mos Def - Mathematics: Mos Def at his best from the album Black on Both Sides - 
  12. Nina Simone - Strange Fruit - Listen now!
  13. Ms. Lauryn Hill - So Much Things To Say 
  14. Rafa Selase - Unhome 
  15. Donny Hathaway - He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Brother. One of my musical inspirations, Donny's smooth vocals prepare you for lift off! - Listen now!
  16. Esperanza Spalding, Algebra Blessett, Lionel Louke - Black Gold 
  17. Kamasi Washington - Malcolm’s Theme: Kamasi is brilliant and this could be his best work, along with “Truth”
  18. Wynton Marsallis - Precious Lord, Take My Hand 
  19. Public Enemy - Fight The Power - Listen Now!
  20. Donny Hathaway - Someday We’ll All Be Free 
  21. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Redemption Song 
  22. The Last Poets - Black People What Y’All Gon’ Do 
  23. Gil Scott-Heron - Whitey on The Moon 
  24. Bob Marley & The Wailers - War 
  25. Sam Cooke - A Change is Gonna Come 
  26. Kendrick Lamar - Alright 
  27. Patti Griffin - Up The Mountain (MLK song) 
  28. Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People 
  29. James Brown - Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) - Listen now!
  30. Rage Against the Machine - Testify 
  31. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Get Up, Stand Up 
  32. Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On 
  33. Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit - This was a beautiful song highlighting the horrendous lynching of African Americans. 
  34. Credence Clearwater Revival - Fortunate Son 
  35. Bob Dylan - Blowin' in The Wind 
  36. Nina Simone - Mississippi godam - Protest song written by the great Nina Simone, was a fearless response to the murder of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers. 
  37. M.I.A - Paper Plane - Listen!
  38. KRS-One - Sound of da Police 
  39. Dead Prez - Police State 
  40. The Roots - Clock With No Hands 
  41. Angie Stone featuring James Ingram - My People 
  42. Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan 
  43. John Lennon - Working Class Hero
  44. Amiri Baraka – Who Will Survive America? 
  45. Beyonce featuring Mr. Frank Ocean - Superpower 
  46. Killer Mike - Reagan 
  47. 2 Live crew - Banned in the USA 
  48. John Coltrane - Alabama: “Alabama” was a powerful response to the1963 Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan that killed four girls and injured 22. 
  49. Zac De La Roca - digging for windows - I honestly never heard of Zac but this dude is spitting lyrics. Looks like he has been slowly grinding on the underground scene. Combination of Rage Against The Machine, Beasty Boys and spoken word artist Saul Williams. 
  50. Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln - Tears for Johannesburg - Masterpiece connecting the parallels between slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa. 
  51. Charles Mingus - Fables of Faubus - This was a protest song response against Arkansas Governor Faubus, who initiated the National Guard to prevent racial integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Listen now!
  52. Saul Williams - List of Demands (Reparations) 
  53. Syl Johnson - Is it because I’m Black 
  54. Lee Greenwood "God Bless America"


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