I was recently struck by some music I heard and feel it would make a great musical analysis listening lesson for your upper elementary up through college-level students . My husband and I were catching up on previously taped “America’s Got Talent,” and we were struck by a particular performance. When I first saw Archie Williams’ perform on the show, his story of being falsely imprisoned for 37 years of his life, along with his beautiful performance, pulled on my heartstrings. We both felt that he should have been given the golden buzzer.
A Moving Final Performance
On Archie’s final performance of the song, “Blackbird,” written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon of the Beatles, and originally sung by Paul McCartney, I felt Archie’s joy of being freed from his false imprisonment. As we often do when we hear particularly touching music, my husband and I did more research on this piece of music.
What is the Song About?
In doing research, I read that McCartney was inspired by the call of a Blackbird in India, as well as racial tensions in the ’60s. The actual music was inspired in part by Johann Sebastian Bach. We watched an interesting video interview of McCartney talking about how he came up with the music, as well as the historical meaning of it.
Comparing Two Performances
I immediately wanted to compare Archie’s performance with McCartney’s. We found the McCartney performance to be much faster and with a drum beat in the remastered performance. Then I looked at Archie’s performance, which had so much feeling to it. You could feel his incredible relief from “waiting for this moment to be free”.
A useful lesson for your students in upper elementary and up would be the following:
- Listen to the Paul McCartney interview about the origins and meaning of the song.
- Listen to a McCartney video performance of Blackbird.
- Listen to the McCartney remastered 2009 audio recording of the song with bird sounds
- Listen to Archie’s story from his audition on America’s Got Talent. Be sure to listen to this ahead of time. For upper elementary school, you may choose to skip the part of him being accused of rape. If they ask, I would say he was accused of physically harming and stabbing a woman.
- Listen to Archie’s final performance of Blackbird.
- Discuss the differences between the performances and why Archie chose to slow it down and change it to make it his own.
I hope this musical analysis listening lesson helps you and your students dig into this beautiful music!