Martin Luther King Day: Remembering Hope, Progress & Embracing the American Dream through Music

Martin Luther King, Jr.2010 was a year of many things: of economic hardship, of loss, of social progress, and of musical innovation. Going into 2011, and more specifically Martin Luther King day, we must focus not on what we have lost, but how we are embracing the rhetoric of “hope” and “progress” and the “American dream.”

It was these concepts that sprouted this nation, and it is these concepts that continue to resonate today, within our society, our politics, our media, and our art. Whether it’s Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ or Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” our yearning to move forward to a better, brighter future has continued to ring true even in –especially in– times when hope, progress, and our own interpretations of the American Dream might be the only thing we have. These three things are then reflected in how we employ ourselves, distract ourselves, conduct ourselves, and perhaps most importantly, entertain ourselves. Let us find our era’s Bob Dylans, Pete Seegers, Joan Baezs, Woody Guthries, and –fingers crossed– our era’s Beatles.

Let us use this year for steps forward –both musical and otherwise– be they baby or be they giant. May these steps be seen in albums with substance, Top 40 hits with messages, and inspiring speeches, statements, concerts and stances from hyper-conscious, albeit socially responsible musicians. We must remember not everything falls into the political spectrum. Social responsibility is non-partisan; a campaign Martin Luther King championed 40-odd years ago, and a thought process that should be taken just as seriously today, within our artistic and musical landscapes.

We must use this time we have to repeat the positives of the past. We must not forget we are a nation who elected an African-American as Commander in Chief in a nation where racial issues are arguably still on the social and musical forefront. We mustn’t get lazy, nor discouraged. Whatever our political leaning –now in a time of blogging, tweeting, Facebook statuses, citizen journalism, Soundcloud, and Myspace music pages– we have an individualized voice that can and will be heard. Use your voice, your skills to make something of substance, that empowers us as Americans, who are all collectively experiencing the same general affects of the aforementioned landscapes. More books about vampires, rehashed 80s films, and songs about the color of your Italian sports car won’t cut it.

In his letters from the Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Let our struggles be expressed, artistically and therapeutically, through our music. We are not the first generation to trudge through an economic down-turn, but we may be the first not to express our troubles, actively and continuously, through the mainstream. We cannot remain trapped in states of crippling fear and numbed denial. Let’s utilize a platform that is built on social expression. Sure, a few drinks and an ironic Black Eyed Peas playlist might lighten the heart from time to time, but turning on an old Dylan record nearly always mends an ailing soul.

Let’s not think of Martin Luther King as just a street we live on, a county we inhabit, or the name of a day we probably won’t get our Netflix discs on. Let his words, his actions, his rhetoric and his legacy inspire us not just one day a year, but the entire year, to live out the American dream and champion it proudly through our albums and arts communities.

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