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What Is On MLK's IPod!

MLK joins his friends in a cover of “99 Problems”




















On the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and a national holiday in the USA though I bet the folks in Birmingham might be forced to work through it, here at rock nyc we do what we always do when we want to get close to somebody. We check out their IPOD (or do I mean Spotify lists) in the hopes we might gleam some insights into the leader of the Civil Rights movement.

Because, with everything that’s been written about the man he has become, like all populist figures who have entered the collective unconscious, he has become something of a cipher.

With stories of MLK meeting with James Brown ringing in my ears, I had hoped that researching MLK’s musical tastes might find some funk, some folk maybe. But what I found was a steady stream of Hymns and Gospel and, of course, the incomparable Mahalia Jackson which would encompass both!

As for his own singing… this is off a Huffington Post article: “The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King, laughed off the question. “I refuse to comment on the grounds it might make me sound nasty,” he said. “His gift was speaking more than singing, but he loved music.”

1. Take My Hand, Precious Lord – Mahalia Jackson – Jackson sang this at MLK’s funeral, it is a deep spiritual with just piano and a request for deliverance, “I am tired and I am weak…” . The hope of a better tomorrow reflected through the hym’s sustained drama as it steps from earth to heaven.

2. All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name – Bing Crosby – Sounds like a re-writing of “Once In Royal David’s City” with first just an organ and than a choir joining it. Like everything Bing sang, it is very very warm.

3. There Is A Balm In Gilead – Mahalia Jackson – “Sometimes I feel discouraged And think my work’s in vain But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again.” Those are the words MLK would recite to lift his spirits up and, indeed, this is the hymn Coretta Scott King used for the title of her autobiography.

4. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize – Pete Seeger – One of the two songs here that aren’t Christian based, this is a Civil Rights marching song and Seeger does it very well with a full female chorus following him.

5.  If I Can Help Somebody – Mahalia Jackson – MLK felt this was a spiritual that could unite a community and through giving living is not in vain. She nails the break with a sustained force and hope.

6. Why (Am I Treated So Bad) – The Staple Sisters –  Written by the Patriarch of the Staple Singers, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, this is r&b not gospel, though it appears to be directed at the Masters who would keep the black man subservient.

7. Amazing Grace – Mahalia Jackson – It is hard to hear this hymn any more but if you were to, go with a capella version

8. In Christ There Is No East Or West – Mavis Staples – This mixes civil rights with Christianity: “Join hands have faith whatever your race may be”.

9. How I Got Over – Mahalia Jackson – Over to the promised land, Lord. A really beauty bluesy roller barrel rocker

10. His Eye Is On The Sparrow – Marvin Gaye – The one time MLK took the solo in Church he sang this song (and suffered an horrendous hit of stage fright), you wanna hear the song? Gaye is superb here.

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