Can You Feel It – Martin Luther King Mix | Fingers Inc
Mixing one of the greatest speeches in history with a Chicago house track might sound like a bad idea but the result is spectacular, heightening the power of both the music and – as if it were needed – the great man’s message.
How I Got Over | Mahalia Jackson
The gospel singer was the final musical performer of the day at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. Only minutes before King delivered the speech that would come to define the civil rights struggle, she hit such heights here it sounds like she had already found his Promised Land. Jackson was also the catalyst for King’s sermon, shouting out from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, prompting him to depart from his prepared version and deliver the “I have a dream” masterpiece.
* Not on the Spotify playlist
Feeling Good | Nina Simone
Nina Simone was a prominent civil rights activist, supporting the movement with songs like Young, Gifted and Black and Mississippi Goddam. The brilliantly composed, confident vocal on this 1965 classic – backed up by a belting brass section – captures the optimism of the times.
Move on Up | Curtis Mayfield
Curtis’s falseto vocal is an inspirational cry for progress … though the message is clear before he even opens his mouth, the opening bang of the snare drum and uplifting blast of horns blowing the listener away in the first five seconds.
Compared to What | Les McCann & Eddie Harris
This political rant was written by Gene McDaniels in 1966. By the time McCann and Harris recorded this electrifying live version three years later the US was falling apart, Richard Nixon was in the White House – and the lyrics seemed even more pertinent: “The president, he’s got his war / Folks don’t know just what it’s for / Nobody gives us rhyme or reason / Have one doubt, they call it treason”.
Hurricane | Bob Dylan
Dylan was the 60s commentator par excellence, but his rage was rarely as unconcealed as on this 1975 tirade about the racial injustice inflicted on boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, that led to a false trial and wrongful conviction for triple murder of the man who “could have been the champion of the world”.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T | Aretha Franklin
This Otis Redding song was elevated to a whole new level by Aretha’s inimitable sock-it-to-me delivery. She didn’t intend it as a feminist anthem, but it sure is.
The Revolution will not be Televised | Gil Scott-Heron
“The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat” … More Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, the eloquent, militant Gil Scott-Heron foreshadowed hip hop. Half a century on, in the era of Black Lives Matter, the line about “pigs shooting down brothers” is depressingly prescient.
Higher Ground | Stevie Wonder
Definitely more Martin than Malcolm, the ever-hopeful Stevie implores us to aspire to King’s Promised Land. He played every instrument on this stupendously funky groove.
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) | Marvin Gaye
The climactic track from his seminal work, What’s Going On (almost every track on the album could make this list), Inner City Blues is a beautiful, dark lament on the state of the nation.
Alabama | John Coltrane
The great jazz saxophonist’s hauntingly beautiful response to the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in Birmingham, Alabama, in which the Ku Klux Klan killed four young African-American girls.
Strange Fruit | Billie Holiday
In 1939 it must have taken tremendous bravery for a black female artist to sing, let alone record, a song about lynching in the Deep South. Originally a poem by Abel Meeropol, published in 1937, black victims are portrayed as “strange fruit” hanging from the trees for crows to pluck: “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.”
The Ghetto | Donny Hathaway
This sprawling latin groove from one of the greatest male soul voices of all time speaks more of the claustrophobic world of the inner city than the brutal fields of southern injustice. Released in 1970, it addressed a new era of urban inequality and protest. A couple of years later, Hathaway co-wrote and performed the haunting Someday We’ll All Be Free, which was used by Spike Lee at the end of his 1992 movie Malcolm X in a version sung by Aretha Franklin.
Why I Sing the Blues | BB King
One of the bluesman’s finest moments, this 1969 track is a lesson in why the blues is integral to the black American experience: “When I first got the blues / They brought me over on a ship / Men were standing over me / And a lot more with a whip …”
We Shall Overcome | Guy & Candice Carawan
Guy Carawan introduced this gospel song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee around 1960 and it was soon adopted as the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement.
The Star Spangled Banner | Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix’s searing, anarchic version of the national anthem is the sound of America in meltdown. It was recorded a year after the assassination of King, with anti-Vietnam protests at their height, a duplicitous president in the Whitehouse and the idealism and hope of the decade in tatters. It’s all the more poignant for being recorded live at the Woodstock festival, hippy America’s last hurrah.
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