Black History Month: Max Roach and His “Freedom Jazz Suite”

All Night Jazz is marking Black History Month by looking back at music that was linked to the civil rights movement.

By Ryan Scates/WUSF

In 1960, drummer Max Roach took a creative and commercial risk when he released “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

The entire album, not just a single song, took an explicit stand on the growing civil rights movement and black history in general from slavery to contemporary civil rights struggles, from America to Africa.

With the help of lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. and singer Abbey Lincoln, Roach took inspiration from the then recent lunch counter sit ins at Woolworth’s (paid homage to on the cover) to the decolonization of Africa (1960 was referred to as “The Year of Africa” because 17 nations became independent from the empires of Britain, France, and Belgium).

The songs include, Driva’ Man, which recreates the story of slavery and “Freedom Day,” which is about the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery and “Tears For Johannesburg”.

The album was not a commercial success, but Roach was undeterred.

“I will never again play anything that does not have social significance,” he told Downbeat magazine. “We American jazz musicians of African descent have proved beyond all doubt that we’re master musicians of our instruments. Now what we have to do is employ our skill to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we’ve been through.”