Friday on My Mind: Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.

It’s time again for Friday on Mind, our weekly blog post where we look at videos centered around one common theme. This is a collaborative effort between KEXP and King 5 News. This Monday will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so we are looking at songs that honor his memory.

Every January on the 3rd Monday of the month, we celebrate the life of Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. During his lifetime, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities, which enacted his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. In 1957, he organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was formed to provide leadership for the growing civil rights movement. In August 1963, March on Washington, which brought together more than 200,000 people. This is where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, which helped established his reputation as one of the greatest speakers in American history. In 1964, at the age of 35, Dr. King was the youngest man, the second American, and the third African-American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, when he was 39 years old. Despite all that Martin Luther King Jr. did to inspire equality, and the introduction of legislation to create a federal holiday in his honor immediately after his death, it took 15 years for a holiday to actually be created. It took several states years to approve it in their own state. The very first federal MLK Holiday went into effect in 1986. The next one comes up this Monday, so here are a few songs in celebration:

U2 – Pride (In The Name of Love)

U2’s 1984 song “Pride (In The Name of Love)” is found on the Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno produced album The Unforgettable Fire. Around the same time as the release, the campaign to create a Martin Luther King holiday was in effect. This timing along with the strength of the album and song made this the Irish band’s breakthrough on the US charts.

Stevie Wonder – Happy Birthday

When the idea of a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. was still being debated in 1980, Stevie Wonder wrote and released the song “Happy Birthday” to help the campaign. Originally the song was released as a single which included sound bites from Dr. King’s past speeches as the B-side. The song went on to be included on Wonder’s next album, Hotter Than July. Wonder ended up headlining a concert during the very first Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 20, 1986.

http://youtu.be/wY0OVWJbKlc

Public Enemy – By The Time I Get to Arizona

In 1987, Evan Mecham, who was the new governor of Arizona at the time, revoked the MLK holiday in the state as his very first act in office. In response to this, a tourist boycott of the Southwest state went into effect. In 1991, the NFL decided to move the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix, Arizona, to Pasadena, California, due to the boycott. Finally in 1992, Arizona approved and began recognizing the federal holiday. In 1991, Chuck D wrote the Public Enemy song “By the Time I Get to Arizona” in response to Arizona’s decision.

Honorable Mentions:

Mahalia Jackson – We Shall Overcome

Mahalia Jackson is considered to be one of the greatest and well known gospel singers of all time. She was born in new Orleans in 1911 and passed away in 1972. The song “We Shall Overcome” served as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recited the words from “We Shall Overcome” in his final sermon delivered on in Memphis on Sunday March 31, 1968, before his assassination. Here is footage of Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome”

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