The 20 songs gathered here as the soundtrack to We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, do not even scratch the surface of the black women’s songbook. In order to create the playlist we imagined women listening to each other and talking across generations. We considered the strong opinions, insights, and feelings that shaped this art—the collective questioning, answering, loving, and dreaming that is the foundation upon which we fight for freedom, self-expression, rights, and humanity. We consider the soundtrack an acknowledgment of the power of Black Radical Women who create playlists for themselves and for others to listen to and experience firsthand the power of art to teach, heal, expose, and represent the times in which we live. Awash in the music and melodies of these 20-odd black women, we begin to speculate about a future that is beautiful and just, not so troubled by the realities of change and difference. We need a soundtrack that creates harmony and dissonance—with a chorus of love that critiques and helps us to believe, build, remember, represent, and protect our families, ourselves, our communities, and our world.

So what puts us in the mood to struggle for our freedom? What emboldens us to drop our greatest fears in favor of our most radical dreams? What gives us the courage, as well as the lightness, to believe that a justice-rich and love-struck future is realizable in time?

Today we reply: It is the young Esperanza Spalding singing, together with Algebra Blessett, “think of all the strength you have in you, from the blood you carry within you”; it is the metaphysical Mavis Staples, alongside Pops and her sisters, prophesying in 1972, “I know a place, y’all, ain’t nobody cryin,’ ain’t nobody worried”; it is perfect angel Minnie Riperton sitting on the edge of her dream, looking out over a future painted brightly; it is the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin invoking illustrious words she once heard about a change coming; it is four Oakland funk warriors, the Pointer Sisters, preaching during their epic Yes We Can Can days, “you gotta believe in something…why not believe in me!”; it is Nina Simone’s grandest of  pianos reminding us we never walk alone; and it is the otherworldly India.Arie ushering us forward with her beautiful song “Beautiful” to a place “suspended in ecstasy.” This is the spiritual bedrock of our strength to struggle and our courage to be.

Marcyliena Morgan + Christina Twicken

Marcyliena Morgan is a professor of African and African American Studies and founding director of the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute at Harvard University. She does her best work while accompanied and guided by the music soundtrack of the black experience.

Christina Twicken is a doctoral student in African American Studies at Harvard University, as well as an aspiring teacher and performer.