21 February 2019

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Playlist | Songs for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. has been celebrated repeatedly in song. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” s one of them, but there are other, lesser-known songs about King. Here are five.

“I Have A Dream”, written by Pat Boone, produced by Michael B. Sutton (2008)

Pat Boone wrote this song in tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. after learning the civil rights leader had been shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

 

Public Enemy, “By the Time I Get to Arizona” (1991)

Stevie Wonder wondered how anyone could resist King’s message of peace. Yet, even after Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, various politicians objected, some (like Jesse Helmes) citing King’s leftist political views and others questioning his importance as a leader. Arizona Governor Even Mecham, was an especially staunch opponent. Enter Public Enemy: this controversial anthem had an even more controversial video that dramatized the governor’s assassination.

 

 

 

Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What” (2011)

The title song to Simon’s most recent album, includes a verse about King’s assassination (“Four men on the balcony / Overlooking the parking lot / Pointing at a figure in the distance / Dr. King has just been shot”).

 

Bobby Womack, “American Dream” (1984)

Co-written with Jim Ford, the original version of “American Dream” was released on Womack’s “The Poet II” and sampled King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This version, by Calvin Richardson, is from “Facts of Life: Soul of Bobby Womack,” an album-length tribute to Womack’s music released in 2006.

 

Kris Kristofferson, “They Killed Him” (1985)

Kristofferson’s song isn’t only about King: it’s also about Gandhi and Jesus. And it was covered the following year by Bob Dylan on his scattershot album “Knocked Out Loaded.”

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