Martin Luther King On Jazz

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mlk
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo History.com)

The words of Martin Luther King are always worthy to reflect upon. We are forever grateful for his courage and perseverance. Even his words on jazz are still prescient and moving. He gave this short speech listed below at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. This year, the jazz festival is celebrating 50 years and will be held from October 30th – November 2nd. It’s now one of Europe’s oldest jazz festivals. Back in 1964, the festival kicked off with acts such as, Coleman Hawkins, The Miles Davis Quintet, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and The Dave Brubeck Quartet. You can see a full list of bands from 1964 to present by clicking here. Since then, more than 5100 artists and more than 1200 bands have performed at the festival.

berlin jazz fest 1964
The Berlin Jazz Festival’s First Year in 1964

Here are MLK’s remarks from 1964.

“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create, and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his 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 into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument. It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls. Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

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