Americans have been singing protest songs since the inception of the nation and the idea of protesting through music is as old as music itself. The earliest and most well-known American songs and hymns of protest were patriotic songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that were written during the War of 1812 and the Civil War respectively. The effectiveness of protest songs of the era was limited though, as the only people who heard the song were the people in attendance at the performance. This changed in the late 19th century with the invention of the phonograph. Later versions of the phonograph were called record players and Americans used them to listen to popular music, and in the early 20th century several advancements were made in radio technology, allowing even more Americans the ability to listen to the popular music of the time. By the time that Franklin Roosevelt gave his famous “Fireside Chats”, tens of millions of Americans owned a radio. In 1941, out of 82 million American adults, 54 million tuned in to hear Roosevelts broadcast on the radio. These technological advancements that allowed more Americans to listen to music in their homes made music more popular as a hobby and gave protest songs a larger platform.
Stevens, Jordan, "There’s Something Happening Here: American Protest Songs of the Vietnam War" (2019). 2019 Lynn Haggard Undergraduate Library Research Award. 4.