The words, “Let freedom ring,” echoed from the lungs of a civil rights leader who knew how to sing.
Music energized the power behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice, as told by Vicki Crawford, director of the MLK Collection at Morehouse College in Atlanta. She authored, "Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: 5 Things I’ve Learned Curating the MLK Collection at Morehouse College,” published Jan. 16, 2022 in the Hoptown Chronicle, Hopkinsville, Ky. The article describes King’s musical background. He attended Morehouse from 1944-48.
King came from a musical family. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was the organist and choir director for the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Rev. King grew up singing soloes in the church as well. His favorite hymns were, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” “How I Got Over,” and “Never Grow Old,” Crawford writes.
King’s musical influences are detailed in an article found in the Journal of the American Federation of Musicians of United States and Canada. The article, “The Extraordinary Musical Influences of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Alfonso Pollard, Feb. 1, 2017, describes the importance of music in King’s life.
King enjoyed blues and jazz along with hymns and gospel. He is quoted by Pollard, “Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell of life’s difficulties… only to come out with some new hope or a sense of triumph.”
In addition to King's talented mother, King’s wife was a highly acclaimed soprano singer as well. Coretta Scott King was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music when the couple met. The Rev. King was studying at Boston University Divinity School at the time. While in high school, Coretta King led a church choir, sang in musicals and played both piano and trumpet, Pollard writes.
The Rev. King’s civil rights movement included several popular artists, notes Tom Taylor in his article, “The Pivotal Musical Performances at the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Marches and Their Legacy,” in Far Out Magazine Jan. 15, 2022. For instance, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan both sang at the March on Washington in 1963. So did Mahalia Jackson, who sang, “How I Got Over.”
“You know my soul looks back and wonders, how we made it over,” Jackson sang, as shown on a YouTube video found in Taylor’s article.