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American Anthems: The Songs That Unite Us

Protestors at a rally in New York City.
Brazil Photo Press
/
LatinContent/Getty Images
Protestors at a rally in New York City.

What's an anthem? It's a stirring call to arms or an expression of collective emotion. Sometimes it's a recognition of injustice, a representation of an oppressed group, or an inspirational message of hope. But it always captures something much larger than itself — the spirit of a community, unified in its common feeling or cause, like the time a gay men's choir sang "Make Them Hear You" at a rally in Tennessee.

Or the time counter protestors sang "This Little Light Of Mine" in Charlottesville, Va. to a group of white nationalists.

On July 4, NPR kicks off its American Anthem series. It'll eventually feature 50 different anthems picked by NPR staffers, music scholars, artists and listeners.

In anticipation of the series, we dedicate this week's episode of All Songs Considered to anthems. We're joined by NPR's Elizabeth Blair, producer of the American Anthem series, as we reflect on the soundtracks to our collective experiences.

You can hear the conversation and songs with the play button at the top of the page, or hear a much longer playlist of anthemic songs with the Spotify playlist below. It includes tracks selected for the series and suggested by listeners.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.
Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.