We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World

Overview

“We Shall Overcome” isn’t a complicated piece of music. The first verse has only twenty-two words, most of them repeated. The melody is straightforward. The chords are basic. Yet the song has had a profound effect on people throughout the United States—and the world.
 

In clear, accessible language Stuart Stotts explores the roots of the tune and the lyrics in traditional African music and Christian hymns. He demonstrates the key role “We Shall Overcome” played in the civil rights, labor, and anti-war ...

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Overview

“We Shall Overcome” isn’t a complicated piece of music. The first verse has only twenty-two words, most of them repeated. The melody is straightforward. The chords are basic. Yet the song has had a profound effect on people throughout the United States—and the world.
 

In clear, accessible language Stuart Stotts explores the roots of the tune and the lyrics in traditional African music and Christian hymns. He demonstrates the key role “We Shall Overcome” played in the civil rights, labor, and anti-war movements in America. And he traces the song’s transformation into an international anthem. With its dramatic stories and memorable quotes, this saga of a famous piece of music offers a unique way of looking at social history.
Author’s note, bibliography, source notes, index.

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  • We Shall Overcome
    We Shall Overcome  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"From the informative black-and-white photographs to the solid back matter to the CD sung by Pete Seeger, it is a complete package."—Booklist

 "A fitting celebration of a song that has helped to create a better world."—Kirkus Reviews

"A thoughtful examination of a song that, as Stotts writes, 'seems to tap into our deepest emotions.'—Publishers Weekly

Children's Literature - Jennifer Keeney
Before reading Stotts' manuscript, I listened to the compact disc that was included. On the disc, folk singer Pete Seeger, who also authored the foreword, croons "We Shall Overcome," a tune that is familiar and yet extremely moving. It was only after listening to the song that I began reading the manuscript. Divided into eight chapters, each named for a transformational song, Stotts' book archives the origins of powerful, peaceful, history-changing music. Tracing all the way back to traditional African music and religious Christian hymns, Stotts follows the evolution of "We Shall Overcome" and other similar melodies. He explores the role of the song in the Montgomery bus boycotts, the civil rights movement, union organizations, and antiwar demonstrations. Terrance Cummings' illustrations are coupled with black-and-white photographs, chronicling America's social history. The manuscript compiles a rich assortment of primary sources, including photographs, paintings, song lyrics, and personal quotations. This manuscript is a wonderful compilation of history and civil disobedience and it would make a wonderful addition to any middle school, history, or music education classroom. Reviewer: Jennifer Keeney
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—The song "We Shall Overcome" immediately evokes a multitude of images and thoughts that include struggle, faith, pain, and hope, among others. This thoughtful and informative book examines the reasons why it has had such an impact by delving into its origins, lyrics, and transformation throughout history. The remarkable path of the song is traced from its beginnings as a moving spiritual in 1863, to the unifying force behind the labor movement in 1909, as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and, finally, to worldwide usage in such faraway places as North Korea and Beirut. With its compelling historical evidence, poignant individual stories, clear writing, and accompanying black-and-white photographs and reproductions and graphics done in red, white, and black, this book will be a wonderful addition to any collection. The lyrics and melody of the song and a CD of Pete Seeger's version of it are included.—Margaret Auguste, Franklin Middle School, Somerset, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Pete Seeger tells readers in the foreword that "the power of singing together shows us that change is possible," and no other song is as identified with movements for social change as "We Shall Overcome." Evolving from slave songs, spirituals and hymns, it was a song of labor protest in union halls in the 1930s, an anthem of the civil-rights movement, a rallying song during the Vietnam War and now a song adopted by protest movements around the world. Stotts's enthusiasm for his subject is palpable in this clear and accessible volume rooted in extensive research. The useful bibliography includes recordings, films, websites and a selection of titles for young readers. Well-chosen photographs with informative captions, engravings, drawings and lyrics support the text, as do Cummings's full-page illustrations, which visualize the theme of each chapter. A fitting celebration of a song that has helped to create a better world. Includes a CD of Seeger singing "We Shall Overcome." (source notes) (Nonfiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547182100
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/18/2010
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: Book and CD
  • Pages: 72
  • Sales rank: 804,715
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1080L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.70 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author



Stuart Stotts is a singer, songwriter, storyteller, and author. He performs regularly throughout the Midwest and is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops for teachers, parents, and librarians. This is his Clarion Books debut; his three previous books focus on Wisconsin lore and history. He and his family live just outside Madison, Wisconsin.

Terrance Cummings is an award winning illustrator, an art director, and a former teacher at Parsons School of Design. He has illustrated several books and has a studio in New Jersey where he lives with his wife and two sons.

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