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The Music and Sounds of the Vietnam Era

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Like many other Americans, I have been tuning in to the documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick this past week. This 10-part series depicts the grim realities of the Vietnam War at home and abroad, and the soundtrack of the movie transports one back to the late 1960s quite perfectly.

With that period in mind, here are some selections from the Music Section that may take you back to that time.

Tunes of Bob Dylan

What retrospective of 1960s music would be complete without Bob Dylan? Such anti-war songs as “Masters of War,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” place him as one of the most iconic musical voices of the Vietnam War protests. Many of his songs can be found in The Music of Bob Dylan (BRM35902), which has the music for guitar and voice. Some of Dylan’s songs were covered by other folk groups, including Peter, Paul, and Mary. Their songbook for the voice and recorder (BRM18810) contains two Dylan songs along with others made famous by the trio.

Vietnam War protesters near the Miami Beach Convention Center during the 1972 Democratic Convention – Miami Beach, Florida. Public Domain.

The Protest Song

Along with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger was instrumental in the development of the anti-war protest song during the 1960s. Songs such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” encapsulate the frustration and helplessness many felt during the war. We have two books that contain Pete Seeger interviews, including Protests of Pete Seeger (DBM00057) and Buffy Sainte-Marie and Pete Seeger (DBM00026). A new addition to the collection Pete Seeger Sings and Answers Questions (DBM03803) where he discusses different songs and styles of music that have inspired him over the years. In the vein of Pete Seeger, we also have Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (DBM00096) and Bernice Reagon and Jean Ritchie (DBM00271), two books that profile these folk singers and their songs.

“A Concert for Peace”

By January 1973, the war was still going on and President Nixon was beginning his second term. On the day of his inauguration, there was a celebratory concert at the Kennedy Center. At the same time, Leonard Bernstein held “A Concert for Peace” at the National Cathedral. Former senator Eugene McCarthy, Eunice Shriver, Senator Ted Kennedy were all in attendance. Although it was not promoted as a response to President Nixon, its anti-war message was clear. Bernstein conducted Haydn’s Mass in a Time of War, which can be found in our collection at BRM35857 (vol. 1 – soprano, vol. 2 – alto, vol. 3 – tenor, vol. 4 – bass).

Nui Dat, Vietnam. 1967-12. Newly arrived members of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), preparing their base camp for the Christmas season. Displayed Under Creative Commons License.

Songs from Vietnam

We also have some books coming soon that contain music from Vietnam. Music from North and South Vietnam (DBM03800) was recorded in 1971 and details some of the unique musical traditions from different regions of the country. An earlier recording, Music of Vietnam (DBM03801), by Vietnamese musicologist Pham Duy, presents traditional music from some Vietnamese ethnic minorities, as well as music from the ethnic Vietnamese. Lastly, Vietnam: Songs of Liberation (DBM03804) presents liberation songs from North Vietnamese sources. Lastly, Good Morning Vietnam (DBM03802) presents a collage of various soundscapes from around the war-ravaged country by photographer Claude Johner.

If you are interested in any of the above titles, please contact the NLS Music Section at [email protected] or (202) 707-0514.

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