Dr. Martin Luther King and His Regard for Jazz Music

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2016 Google Doodle by Richie Pope (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

We know that Dr. King loved gospel music, the music of Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Swan Silvertones and other great artists.  Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba marched with him. What is maybe less known is his high regard for jazz.

On this MLK Day, I want to share an excerpt from something he wrote for the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964.

imgres“God has wrought many things out of oppression. God has endowed creatures with the capacity to create-and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed humanity to cope with the environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them to music, only to come out with some new hope and sense of triumph.

This (jazz) is triumphant music.”

Here is a recital of the full text:

I’ve written about Adam Clayton Powell, Congressman to Harlem during the 1950’s Eisenhower administration, who sent jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones around the world to help spread democracy. Here was Dr. King spreading the word about the healing power of jazz music, a message of peace, brotherhood, and the power of music to heal and bring people together during a difficult and divided America during the Civil Rights struggle.