Units October 28, 2021

Rooted in Song


Lesson Summary: Students use reading and literacy skills to examine the lasting influence of the musical traditions of enslaved people on American music today. Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by educators in LAUSD’s HEET Community of Schools, part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. This unit was planned using Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s HILL Model, an equity framework which focuses on 5 pursuits:

  1. Identities: How will your teaching help students to learn something about themselves and/or others?
  2. Skills: What skills and content learning standards are you teaching?
  3. Intellect: What will your students become smarter about?
  4. Criticality: How will you engage your thinking about power, equity, and anti-oppression in the text, in society and in the world? 
  5. Joy: How will my instruction advance students’ happiness through the use of beautiful and truthful images, representations and narratives about themselves and/or others?


Students will

  • Consider how the music and songs of enslaved people influence the music they listen to today. (Identity)
  • Annotate texts, make inferences, use textual evidence to support responses, determine the main/central idea, effectively participate in collaborative discussion, and make connections across texts. (Skills)
  • Learn about the traditional music and songs created by enslaved people and how they influence popular music today. (Intellect)
  • Learn how enslaved people used music as a form of resistance and an expression of freedom. (Criticality)
  • See examples of joy expressed through music and song (Joy)

Unit Overview

This unit introduces students to the roots of American music through the study of music traditions that enslaved people carried to the colonies from Africa. Students should end the unit with an understanding of the ways in which the traditions of enslaved people have influenced American music as well as an awareness of the overall genius, perseverance and joy of Black musicians. 

Teachers should read “American Popular Music” by Wesley Morris and listen to Episode 3 of the “1619” podcast prior to teaching this unit to students in order to build a strong understanding of the themes and material.

Prior to engaging in the unit, the teacher must ensure that students:

  • Feel safe and encouraged to participate in collaborative discussion
  • Have a basic understanding of slavery in the colonies and the United States
  • Have been introduced to main/central idea, key details, and theme/message

Performance Task

At the end of the unit, students will create a short presentation to explain how a musical artist or song they like has been influenced by the musical traditions and culture created by enslaved people. In addition to the performance task, students are expected to annotate each text and respond to a set of text dependent questions for each text. Each lesson includes an exit ticket to assess students on their understanding of the lesson content and their progress in using textual evidence to support their responses.


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