Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics

“Louder than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics,” explored how rock and roll has changed attitudes about patriotism, peace, equality, and freedom, and showcased stage costumes, instruments, and handwritten lyrics from more than 50 artists and political figures. “Louder Than Words” was curated by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Newseum.

“Louder Than Words takes you on a six-decade journey that explores the power of music to challenge assumptions and affect social and political change,” said President Bill Clinton. “Music has provided the soundtrack for many of the important transitions in our country’s history. From the Civil Rights era to anti-war movements to the fight for women’s equality and LGBTQ rights, singers and songwriters have rallied us together in common cause and inspired us to move our country forward.”

The exhibit organized the experience by presidential administrations – from Eisenhower through Obama – and used the historical context of a timeline to demonstrate the role that music has played across the decades. The popular music during the Johnson administration addressed topics such as the ongoing conflict in Vietnam and the tragic Kent State shooting. During the Carter, Bush, and Reagan years, the emergence of hip hop produced songs that directly and unapologetically addressed black violence. And Clinton brought Fleetwood Mac back together in the 90s for his inaugural ball, tying his vision for the future to their lyrics of “Don’t Stop.” These songs’ and genres’ connection to political issues made their popularity soar in their time and remain poignant today.

“Music is known to stir our deepest emotions and move us to act,” said Stephanie S. Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation. “I’m thrilled that our visitors will be able to see and hear how artists have used their music and celebrity status to produce change.”

“Louder Than Words fits uniquely into our nation’s Presidential Libraries as it examines the influence rock and roll music has placed on Presidents and political leaders to advance civil and human rights, roll back censorship, and reconsider military policy,” said Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library.

More than 50 artists and political figures contributed to this stimulating exhibit, including Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and Neil Young. Visitors could see handwritten lyrics, stage costumes and instruments that had never been publicly displayed. FBI correspondence with Priority Records revealed the influence of N.W.A.’s “Fight the Power.” And one of President Clinton’s saxophones was on display, paying homage to the instrument he first learned to play in high school.

The exhibit was largely made possible by the Newseum, a Washington, D.C. museum dedicated to exploring the constitutional protections of the First Amendment as well as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Locally, “Louder Than Words” was sponsored by Road Runner Stores.

Event highlights