This post has been updated.
Nationwide this week is called Banned Books Week. At the D.C. Public Library, it’s called “Uncensored.”
Banned Books Week was established in 1982 to raise awareness of books that people want off the shelves. It’s not an issue limited to the McCarthy era — even now, parents, leaders and various interest groups rally to censor or remove books from libraries for all kinds of reasons. But the D.C. Public Library widens the scope of Banned Books Week, looking at any form of expression that’s been challenged, including music.
That’s why the library has made a playlist for Banned Books Week two years in a row, says Maggie Gilmore, a librarian in DCPL’s adult information services division. This year, the D.C. Public Library Foundation asked her to compile a list of songs with a dual theme: censorship and D.C. music.
Gilmore consulted her fellow librarians for ideas and solicited input from attendees at August’s D.C. Record Fair at Penn Social. This is the resulting playlist, streamable via Spotify and YouTube, below:
Bad Brains, “Banned in DC”
Chain & the Gang, “Free Will”
Parliament, “Chocolate City”
Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, “Run Joe”
The Evens, “Wanted Criminals”
The Cornel West Theory, “DC Love Story”
Ice-T, “Freedom of Speech”
Coup Sauvage & the Snips, “Don’t Touch My Hair” (JD Samson Remix)
Minor Threat, “Straight Edge”
Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl”
Unrest, “Malcolm X Park”
The Blackbyrds, “Rock Creek Park”
The Roots with Wale and Chrisette Michele, “Rising Up”
Diamond District, “March Off”
Marvin Gaye, “Got To Give It Up”
The playlist comes across as a celebration of outspoken music — not hard to find in this town, Gilmore says.
“[D.C.] is a natural environment for people to discuss political issues,” Gilmore says. Plus, she says, the city’s constantly shifting population can aggravate local tensions.
“With D.C. having so many people moving in and out of the city, there’s always been tension in the various groups that are represented in D.C.,” Gilmore says. She cites D.C.’s signature funk sound as an example. “Go-go has always been challenged by those who may feel it’s obtrusive — and maybe not even the music itself, but the social scene around go-go.”
The playlist debuted at last Friday’s opening party for “Uncensored: Information Antics,” the library’s new exhibit in honor of Banned Books Week. The show remains on view at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library through Oct. 22.
Gilmore says “Uncensored” and this playlist are part of the library’s larger efforts to document and support local expression in all forms. DCPL’s D.C. Punk Archive has been in the works for a year now. Gilmore coordinates the library’s series of punk-rock basement shows, meant to highlight its punk collection. After this, the library focuses on archiving go-go, then jazz, Gilmore says.
“Trying to highlight local music, [D.C.’s cultural] history and current artists — that’s one of the main goals of the basement shows, to provide a space for bands to play,” Gilmore says. “So this was an opportunity to continue on that.”
Related: WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show airs a segment on Banned Books Week Tuesday at 1:32 p.m. Can’t tune in? The segment will be archived on kojoshow.org.
Warning: Some songs contain explicit lyrics.