Music Monday: Martin Luther King’s Favorite Music

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, here is a compilation of some of his favorite songs.

Those who knew him say hymns, spirituals, and other religious songs helped carry him through troubled times. While I found several songs mentioned as among his favorites, a few seemed to be mentioned repeatedly.

First among these is “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. King’s last words before his assassination was a request to play this song at a mass he was due to attend that night. It was sung at his funeral by Mahalia Jackson:

Dr. King was especially fond of spirituals, and one of his favorites was “Balm in Gilead”, with its hopeful lyrics of:

“Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

According to his wife, Coretta Scott King, Dr. King would quote the song when he needed a lift.

Here is a version performed by the St. Olaf Choir:

A third song that I saw mentioned frequently was “If I Can Help Somebody”.  Dr. King first heard “If I Can Help Somebody” performed by Anna Lee Williams, a classically trained soprano, in 1956. He later encouraged Jackson, a close friend, to record the hymn, which she did in 1963.

And here’s one more by Jackson, “How I Got Over”. After she sang the spiritual at the 1963 March on Washington, King later wrote her to say she set the tone for his “I Have a Dream” speech.

While there many other songs to choose from, I thought it would be appropriate to include songs that were played at his funeral, besides the ones above:

Marcel Dupré: Cortège et Litanie:

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

Ain’t Got Time to Die

Dear Old Morehouse (King’s alma mater):

We Shall Overcome:

Antonín Dvořák – New World Symphony Op. 95 – Largo:

A beautiful set of songs; a fitting tribute to one of the most remarkable men in U.S. and world history.

*Thank you to Antonio Hunt for putting the playlist together from Dr. King’s funeral.

*image from The Evening Standard

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