Musician to sing historic Civil Rights Movement songs

T'Nerra Butler, Verge Editor

Chris Vallillo playing his guitar. He plays more than three instruments.
submitted photo
Chris Vallillo playing his guitar. He plays more than three instruments.

Chris Vallillo fell for music in the sixth grade, and as the years carried on, his fervent passion for the art formed into a profession, which he will share with Eastern.

Vallillo is a folk musician who does a combination of old and new songs that he said has a style reminiscent of older music.

Vallillo is a self-taught musician who picked up influences of others he worked with and admired.

“I taught myself the same 10 chords everybody else knew, until I got into college where I met musicians who were significantly better than I was,” Vallillo said. “I like to tell everybody that I do everything wrong, but I’ve done it so long that it’s become my own unique style.”

Vallillo is set to play the hymns and folk songs 2 p.m. Friday in the West Reading Room of Booth Library.

The song list includes “Keep your Eyes on the Prize” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The show will be focused on the songs of the Civil Rights Movement, but Vallillo does write his own music.

“(The event) puts those songs in historical context,” Vallillo said. “It talks about the history of the song, what they did in the Civil Rights Movement, and what an impact they had.”

Vallillo will be playing on a variety of instruments and said he even brings those instruments on the road when he travels.

Vallillo said he is looking forward to playing the songs “Birmingham Sunday” and “Keep your Eyes on the Prize.” He said “Birmingham Sunday” is a not played as often because it tells the story of the four girls who were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.

“People don’t always want to hear sad songs,” Vallillo said. “I think it’s a really important song, and it’s important to remember that incident.”

In an email, Ellen Corrigan, project director of the exhibit and program series at Booth Library, said in planning for For All the World to See she hoped to integrate complementary themes with local exhibits or programming.

“Audio culture in the Civil Rights Movement parallels the visual culture approach of the traveling exhibit, so I investigated how that concept could be worked into the exhibit and program series,” Corrigan said.

When planning events to accompany the exhibits shown at Booth Library, Corrigan said the committee strived to provide a wide range of programs to appeal to as diverse an audience as possible.

“Music is a form of entertainment, but it’s also a powerful tool,” Corrigan said. “Music has been used to influence, to persuade, to communicate and promote values and ideologies in any number of movements and campaigns.”

Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the expression of music played a key role in activism, Corrigan said. She said that the art served as a means of non-violent protest, which adapted from hymns, spirituals and freedom songs.

Corrigan said she hoped that “Oh Freedom!” draws students, faculty, community members and visiting families who come in to the library looking to be entertained.

She said while the audience listens to the music, they should recount the struggle, hear the words and hopefully will be moved to feel the same emotions experienced by participants in the Civil Rights Movement.

It has been a few years since Vallillo has been at Eastern, and he said he is looking forward to coming back.

T’Nerra Butler can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].