Tom Morello is a Grammy Award-winning musician best known for his role as the guitarist in Rage Against the Machine, a band that helped to found the rock-rap genre and that was known for being extremely political in the 1990s. In 2003, Morello was named #26 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists for his style of playing that drew from his rock and hip-hop influences, creating “true rap metal and a redefinition of the guitar’s potential.”
Less known for his acoustic folk music, Morello formed The Nightwatchman as a creative outlet for his political voice while he was playing with his band, Audioslave, in the early aughts. “The idea of the lone troubadour standing there with three chords and the truth on a flatbed truck at the barricades is appealing,” Morello told The Washington Post. “With Rage, the idea is to create mosh pits in an arena or stadium. With the Nightwatchman, the idea is to create mosh pits in your mind.” His most recent album, World Wide Rebel Songs, was named one of Rolling Stone’s best albums of 2011. Morello’s musical heroes include Woody Guthrie, Joe Strummer from The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Public Enemy, and Bob Dylan.
Morello advocates for worker’s rights, human rights, immigrant rights, environmental rights, and animal rights. He is co-founder of the non-profit organization Axis for Justice along with Serj Tankian from System of a Down. The organization’s mission is to “bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice.”
Morello was born to a white American teacher and a black Kenyan intellectual who met in Kenya through their work in the country’s independence movement. When Morello’s father became part of Kenya’s delegation to the United Nations, Morello’s parents moved back to New York, where Morello was born in 1964. Morello was a little over a year-old when his father returned to Kenya, and Morello and his mother moved to the suburbs of Chicago where she became a high school history teacher. Morello credits her for his ongoing leftist political activism. He attended Harvard, becoming the first student from his town to do so, and graduated in 1986 with honors in political science.
Morello, both as part of Rage Against the Machine and as a solo artist, has performed at rallies and marches throughout his career, from the steps of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and Occupy protests around the world. On May 1st, 2012, Morello led a “guitarmy”—a group of guitar playing protestors on a march from Bryant Park to Union Square, where he performed some of his songs and the classic protest song This Land is Your Land. As Morello told the Australian music website Undercover, “From kick ass rock n’ roll to political folk tunes, music clearly transcends all borders.”