Many songs offer historical information, such as the ones in musicals like Hamilton, Evita, and even Les Miserables, which not only depict history through music, but also teach their audiences a thing or two about the past. Musicals about certain historical events could seriously help their audiences learn their details and timelines. Plus, they would totally make history more accessible and fun.
The start of the Great Depression kicked off a decade of struggle for millions of people worldwide and in the United States led to economic experimentation with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.
The hardships of the Great Depression—the unemployment, bank failures, poverty, Hoovervilles, which started under President Herbert Hoover's watch—are generally well known. During the first years of the Depression, the government experimented with planned scarcity and a hands-off approach to economic recovery. When FDR became president in 1932, he implemented a program of social support, relief, reform, and protection. During his first 100 days, FDR signed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Act to improve infrastructure and begin building projects along the Tennessee River. He established the National Industrial Recovery Act to protect worker's rights. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided jobs to young men around the country.
The emerging alphabet soup of work program acronyms continued during the second round of New Deal laws the Roosevelt administration pushed starting in 1935. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided work for millions of Americans. The National Labor Relations Act regulated unions, and the Social Security Act set up pension protection and unemployment assistance. There were numerous New Deal programs to fund farmers, education, and to provide loans. Not all of the programs worked, and some replaced others as the Depression continued through the 1930s. By 1939, the New Deal decreased unemployment in the United States dramatically, and the economy as a whole greatly expanded. With the outbreak of World War II, the depression ended, but the New Deal set a precedent of increased government involvement in economic and social issues.
The build up to the stock market crash in 1929 has plenty of sad music to go along with it. Numbers like "Going Home to Nowhere" would provide an appropriate tone for the Depression. The hopefulness of the New Deal, however, would bring a lighthearted tone in songs like "Roosevelt's Chattin' Tonight" (a reference to his Fireside Chats) or "WPA Means We're A-okay!"
The relocation of thousands of Native Americans during the early 19th century was the United States government's response to what they termed the "Indian problem." During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Trail of Tears exemplified how extreme such tactics would become.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 gave President Andrew Jackson the authority to grant lands west of the Mississippi River to Native American tribes. Many tribes went willingly to what was called Indian Territory, but the Cherokee nation, who inhabited parts of Arkansas and Georgia, resisted. States limited Native American sovereignty, trying to drive tribes from their borders. In 1831 and 1832, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against these tactics, but President Jackson continued his efforts to drive Native Americans west. The US Army forced the Choctaw Nation to move to Indian Territory, making them walk "without any food, supplies or other help from the government." Thousands died along the way, and the route was termed the "Trail of Tears."
In 1835, members of the Cherokee Nation and the US government met at New Echota to negotiate a treaty. The Cherokee received $5 million dollars and were given two years to move west. By 1838, thousands of Cherokees remained on their lands. The government used the treaty to justify their forcible relocation. Thousands of US troops were sent into Georgia and North Carolina to round up Native Americans, who were marched to Indian Territory. Native Americans were held in camps until the 1,200 mile journey began in October 1838. Over 25% of Cherokees died of exhaustion, disease, and illness.
Songs telling the tragic stories of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears would necessarily reflect their hardships. A song titled "We Walk Alone" would be appropriate. Tunes that demonize power-hungry President Andrew Jackson may include "I'd Like to see the Supreme Court Make Me" or "Do They Know Who I Am?"
Have you ever wondered why you're supposed to remember the Alamo? As the best-known event in Texas's fight for independence from Mexico, the Alamo represents heroism, fighting until the very end, and standing up to oppression. All of these qualities scream "musical!"
The Alamo, first a chapel for missionaries and eventually an outpost for the Spanish military, is located along the San Antonio River. During the early 19th century, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Mexican troops were stationed at the Alamo. Settlers began to make their way from the United States into what was previously known as Tejas. By 1830, there were more settlers than Mexicans, and as skirmishes became common, Mexico decided to ban immigration from the United States. The settlers still in Tejas, however, became enraged and began to push for an independent state. Open conflict broke out between Texans and Mexicans in 1835.
In late 1835 or early 1836, Texas volunteers George Collinsworth and Benjamin Milam led an attack on the Alamo and seized it from Mexico. The Alamo was a strategic position, and Colonel James Bowie and Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis were ready to fight for it when the Mexican military inevitably attacked. Notable Texan fighters like David Crockett were present when about 200 troops fought against a Mexican force that was anywhere from 1,800 to 6,000 strong. The Texans lasted thirteen days against the much larger contingent but, in the end, the Alamo fell back into Mexico's hands on March 6, 1835.
Texas declared its independence in 1836, and the men who fought at the Alamo were considered heroes of the cause. Songs like "See You Later, Spain" would tell the early story of Mexico emerging from colonial oppression. "The Alamo is Us All" could represent the numerous purposes and occupations of the location. The ending would include a solemn ballad dedicated to the men on both sides of the fight who refused to surrender, aptly named, "Remember Us."
The fall of the Soviet Union is another aspect of history that is difficult to wrap one's head around. The musical could focus on the period between 1989 and 1991, starting with how the Soviet Union slowly lost control of its Communist satellite states in Eastern Europe. "Poland Leads the Way!" would provide information on Lech Walsea and the Solidarity movement. "East Meets West" would recount how Germany was on its way to reunification.
The role of Mikhail Gorbachev with his policies of "Perestroika" and "Glastnost," both of which could be explanatory songs, also offer insights into how the Soviet Union tried to adapt to changes within the Communist world, albeit unsuccessfully. When Gorbachev was the target of a coup in 1991, it signaled an end to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev stayed in power but resigned in December 1991. Within a month, the former Soviet Union ceased to exist. For closure of sorts, ending the musical with "Goodbye Mikhail, Hello Boris" could provide information about the leadership of Boris Yeltsin and what it would mean for the post-Soviet Union world.