George Mason Professor Examines the Impact of Politically Infused Music in 1968

Thomas Stanley says he is not an “old school kind of guy.” He keeps his eyes forward, looking straight ahead toward the future. So, in looking back over the last 40 years, he said the process was a bit melancholy.

The recent commemoration of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. has inspired many retrospective analyses of the past four decades. In an audiovisual presentation entitled “Blackadelic: ’68,” Stanley, assistant professor of hip hop culture and digital sound design at George Mason University, explored the impact of sound and politics on the year’s cultural revolution at the Historical Society of Washington on April 8.

In his month-by-month timeline, he highlighted the war in Vietnam, student protests at Howard and Bowie State universities, riots in several urban cities and the power of black music. Members of the audience bobbed their heads to several tracks of ’68 including Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” and Curtis Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner.” A solemn peace fell over the mixed crowd when the projector displayed a photo of King while Nina Simone sang “Nuff Said,” a special song she wrote and performed just days after his assassination.

On April 5, the day after King was assassinated, James Brown performed a televised concert to stop the riots in Boston. In October, his song “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” entered the Billboard charts at No. 1 and remained for six weeks.

Stanley draws several parallels between 1968 and 2008. Recently, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has been criticized for his sermon condemning the state of America. However, before his death, historians say King had prepared a speech entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

“We are seeing the exhaustion of war,” Stanley says of the war in Iraq. After the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Saigon in January 1968, the United States entered the Vietnam War amid much protest from the American people. Black activists including Stokely Carmichael, a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party, gave speeches condemning America’s attempts to spread democracy across the world.

Stanley received his bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland at College Park. He is one-third of Mind Over Matter Music Over Mind, where he merges sampled and electronically engineered music with visual art. He says the music of today is “so familiar” as its “authenticity” relies on its ability to sound like music from the 70s.” As a professor at George Mason, he says students solicit his advice on music production and that he is always amazed at the similarities between the music of then and now.

“It is time to get desperate to make some new music. My target is about the future,” he said. “There has got to be an incentive to transform our interior.”