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Music Of A Movement
A Reason to Smile
The civil rights movement was driven by marches and sit-ins, lawyering and politicking, speeches and legislation. But it was also fueled by music — songs of oppression and hope, resilience and survival.
This weekend, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we felt it would be fitting to honor the power of that music. These are melodies and lyrics that stirred the soul of a nation, referencing the ugliness of its history to suggest a new path of greater empathy and justice. Nearly 60 years later, we are reminded that this journey remains one very much in progress.
In honor of Dr. King, let us start at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (the full name of the event deserves its due). Right before Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, the crowd was treated to another performance for the ages, by his favorite gospel singer, the peerless Mahalia Jackson. She sang a pair of hymns, including the one we are posting here: “I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned.”
Listen to the music and the power of her voice. And look at the faces of that crowd, all ages and races, standing in rapt attention.
Jackson is also credited for inspiring what came next. As Dr. King was reading from his prepared text that day, she yelled out to him, "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" He apparently looked at her, slid his notes off to the side, and began to speak extemporaneously. The rest, as they say, is history.
To capture this special bond between singer and preacher, we found this clip of Jackson and Dr. King at a church in Chicago. She launches into a rendition of “Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho”; the look on his face is priceless.
Finally, no song is more closely identified with the civil rights movement than the iconic “We Shall Overcome.” There are too many great versions to count, so here we share (not for the first time) one of our favorites. It is courtesy of the Morehouse College Glee Club.
Part of the power of this performance lies in the strength of the voices and the arrangement for a capella. But it also moves us to see new generations channel the struggles and victories of the past in order to build a brighter future.
As our nation continues to wrestle with its injustices and inequalities, and with the goal of a more perfect union remaining illusive, these powerful songs resonate once more. They are a testimony that progress is possible. And in that may we find a reason to smile.
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