Although Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come' is inextricably linked to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it has an uneasy relationship with the genre of the protest song. Where protest songs enact the social change they seek to accomplish, Cooke's composition places its singer at a distance from an imminent, unspecified change. While protest songs are confident that the development they desire will materialize, the musical and lyrical structure of 'A Change Is Gonna Come' implies that the change in question may never arrive. Insofar as it depends upon contained progression - thematic and harmonic movement that is both linear and cyclical - the song could be described as a blues. Like many blues, moreover, it engages with the theme of human mortality: death, which every individual expects but never experiences, could be the 'change' to which the title and refrain refer. At the same time, change is the very word through which the lyric participates in the protest genre. If it were to be stricken from the text, the song would have no political referent, nothing to take its meaning beyond the confessional and personal.


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pp. 991-1003
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