Mother’s Day is a celebration of mothering with anti-war origins. As a response to the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, an activist and suffragist promoted a Mothers’ Peace Day beginning in 1872. Howe called for women “to gather once a year in parlors, churches, or social halls, to listen to sermons, present essays, sing hymns or pray if they wished—all in the name of promoting peace.” Women like Kentucky teacher Mary Towles Sassee and Anna Jarvis from Philadelphia also organized celebrations of motherhood, friendship, and peace. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day on May 9, 1914.
The holiday has taken on new meanings with its commercialization. For many, Mother’s Day is an emotional holiday, whether you celebrate your mom because she is your brightest light or you avoid social media on these days because your mom was not your caretaker in any sense of that word. Some moms have kids that have the means and emotional health to take them to brunch and buy them flowers and others will continue to do most of the supporting on this and every other day. Some mothers gave birth to their children and some love and take care of people that came into their lives in other ways. It’s complicated and beautiful and hard.
These songs mostly celebrate moms, but they each touch on different ways mothers impact our lives and our hope of a peaceful future where motherhood remains a choice.
You can listen to these songs and many others on Unsweetened: A Playlist for a Feminist Future on Spotify.
Elizabeth Mitchell and Suni Paz, “Tu Eres Mi Sol”
Many a mom have sung their kids to sleep with a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” though few had the skills of indie rocker and accomplished folk musician Elizabeth Mitchell and Argentinian folklorist, teacher, and musician Suni Paz. Sorry, moms.
Alicia Keys, “Superwoman”
“For all the mothers fighting for better days to come”
The Shirelles, “Mama Said”
This is THE song about listening to your mother.
Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance”
Lea Ann Womack said this song instantly made her think of her children. And you want your mom to want these magical things for you, but this song works both ways. Many of us want these magical things for our moms too.
Lauren Hill, “To Zion”
Lauren Hill’s song wrote this song for her son Zion. It’s about life and motherhood, fear and love and beauty.
Madonna, “Little Star”
Another song by a strong woman to her brand new baby.
Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley P.T.A.”
For all the moms living their best lives, wearing their skirts too high and standing up to bullies.
Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”
This is a deliciously fun song about your mom just not getting it. You’re mad, and you’re not going to be polite about it.
Neko Case, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”
Not all moms act like moms. Sung in acapella, this song by Neko Case is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. (Not safe for brunch.)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”
A song meant to recall a time when the American slave trade separated families, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” also evokes feelings of isolation and placelessness. For some, when we’re far away from our mothers, we’re far away from home.
Ani DiFranco, “Amendment”
For the folks who know that motherhood should be a choice, this is a song about what we all deserve – gender equality and an Equal Rights Amendment.
Happy Mother’s Day! Be kind. Check out the entire playlist below and scroll to the bottom for the latest songs.