Composer, pianist, and director Samora Pinderhughes believes that there is a soundtrack to every revolution. On November 21 at the David Rubenstein Atrium, he’ll lead his band in The Transformations Suite, an expansive work of music, theater, and slam poetry that examines the radical history of resistance within communities of the African diaspora. In this essential playlist, Pinderhughes digs into the artists and thinkers that inspired the suite, which he began work on as a student at The Juilliard School.

Learn more about The Transformations Suite in this conversation between Pinderhughes and Anna Deavere Smith.

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“Me Against the World” – Tupac Shakur

My dad introduced me to Tupac with this song—it was the first rap song I ever listened to. It was one of my first introductions to an artist really saying something both personal and political at the same time—really making a statement. Tupac was not just a music artist, he was a revolutionary and one of the most important artistic voices of all time. His mother was a Black Panther. His aunt was Assata Shakur. And it shows in his music.


“My Name is Oscar” – Ambrose Akinmusire

I’ve known Ambrose since I was eight years old—he’s like family to me and my sister, Elena. He’s been one of the biggest influences on my whole musical life and I’ve based a whole section of The Transformations Suite’s harmonic concept just off of his song “Regret (No More).” This song here, “My Name is Oscar,” is an incredible testament to the life of Oscar Grant, who was murdered by a BART police officer on New Year’s Day in 2009.


Mississippi Goddam – Nina Simone 

My three biggest influences—my spiritual godparents—are James Baldwin, Billy Strayhorn, and Nina Simone. In my opinion, Nina is one of the ten most important artists of all time, in the whole universe. She represents unfettered, uncompromising truth, and this song rings true just as much today as it did when she wrote it, unfortunately.


“List of Demands” – Saul Williams

I took some of Saul Williams’s lyrics from his book Said the Shotgun to the Head and set them to music as part of the song “Cycles” in The Transformations Suite. It’s still my favorite part of the whole suite. His music and his writing always make me think in new ways. The other day I heard him say as part of a poem: “What is your mind’s immigration policy?” I was like, “Dang. I need to think through that for like the next five days.”


“Little Wheel Spin and Spin” – Buffy Sainte-Marie

Not enough folks know about Buffy Sainte-Marie. She is one of our country’s most legendary artists, and I wonder why she is forgotten in the usual conversations surrounding her contemporaries like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. I have a suspicion that it has to do with race, unfortunately. There’s some proof that she was blacklisted from the industry for her fights for Native-American rights. Her voice is so unique and powerful.


The rest of the list: 

“People” – Laura Mvula

“Save the Children” – Marvin Gaye

“Winter in America” – Gil Scott-Heron

Freedom Now Suite – Max Roach

“Strange Fruit” – Billie Holiday

“Fables of Faubus” – Charles Mingus

“Police State” – Dead Prez

“Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” – Bob Marley

“A Black/Woman/Speaks” – Sonia Sanchez

“Come Sunday” (from Black, Brown, and Beige) – Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson

Playlist: Songs of Revolution & Transformation
Photo by Deneka Peniston
Samora Pinderhughes

About the Curator

Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes is a composer and pianist known for large multidisciplinary projects and for his use of music to examine sociopolitical issues. Pinderhughes has performed in venues including Carnegie Hall, the White House, MoMA, Lincoln Center, the Sundance Film Festival, and Monterey Jazz Festival, and has toured internationally with artists including Branford Marsalis, Christian Scott, and Emily King. 

Pinderhughes is the creator and composer of The Transformations Suite. He has written music for artists including Kenny Barron and Common, and is the composer for the film Whose Streets?. He is also a member of Blackout for Human Rights, and was musical director for their 2016 #MLKNow and #JusticeForFlint events.