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This article offers a sociopolitical framework for appreciating seven masterpieces of American protest music that emerged during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Attention is paid to the “worked-at-process” that each artist experienced while creating their landmark songs. They include Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (recorded in 1956 but popularized in the 1960s); Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”; Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”; James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”; Jimi Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock; and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” These songs became masterpieces primarily because they arose hand-in-glove with mass demonstrations for peace and social justice, thereby establishing legacies of protest music for future generations, particularly, the generation now facing uncertainty and fear created by the presidency of Donald Trump.

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Pussy Riot was a feminist punk-rock group based in Moscow, Russian Federation. It was founded by a group of several young women in the summer of 2011, following the announcement that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would run for a third presidential term. Wearing colorful clothes and balaclavas, band members conducted several unsanctioned public performances, which were recorded, edited, and later distributed as music videos on the Internet. Committed to socio-political change in Russia, Pussy Riot protested against the authoritarian political regime and church-state confluence in Russia and advocated for feminism, LGBT and civil rights, and political liberties. Pussy Riot’s most famous song, “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away,” a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour held on February 21, 2012, provoked a scandal. Following the performance, a criminal case was opened against three Pussy Riot members, leading to arrests without bail of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich. Supporters of Pussy Riot believed the court proceedings and the verdict discredited the Russian judicial system, as the three women were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” While Samutsevich won her appeal, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina served 21 months of their 24-month sentence before they were granted amnesty. This case has become a landmark event in Russian politics, causing a domestic and international controversy over the issues of justice, feminism, and separation of church and state.