“Black Music and Civil Rights” March on Washington Film Festival

On Tuesday, July 20 at the NPR building, the March On Washington Film Festival’s focus turned to Black Music and Civil Rights.

The March On Washington Film Festival began in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Now in its fourth year, the festival brings films and documentaries about the era, along with direct witnesses and participants.

The evening began with the documentary “Mavis” about celebrated gospel singer and recent Kennedy Center honoree  Mavis Staples. The film charted her career that started with The Staples Singers and encompassed the impact that the Civil Rights movement had on them personally and how it manifested itself in their music.

Mavis Staples documentary at NPR

The screening was followed by a panel discussion  the role of Stax Records and Black radio DJs in the Civil Rights movement. Jacquie Gales Webb, radio host and executive producer of Black Radio Telling It Like It Was moderated the panel discussion. Panelists included Al Bell, former radio DJ, record producer, co-owner and CEO of Stax Records, Sonja Williams, Gracie and Peabody Award-winning professor, Howard University Department of Media, Journalism and Film and Jonathan Jackson, business professor, entrepreneur and social justice advocate.

March on Washington film festival panelists
Lto R: Jacquie Gales Webb, Sonja Williams, Al Bell

During the panel discussion Al Bell told the story of Stax and how DJs were instrumental in getting the word out during the movement by using radio as a vehicle for community awareness. He lamented the demise of that network that was able to galvanize communities.

The panel was a great look into the inner workings of the Civil Rights movement and showed how music was and can be more than just entertainment when it comes to issues that affect humankind.

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