10 Songs About Martin Luther King Jr

The Musical Sphere has honored the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr's work through songs over the years.
The Musical Sphere has honored the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr's work through songs over the years.( Source : twitter )

Songs about Martin Luther King Jr are encompassed by 1. Why (The King of Love Is Dead) by Nina Simone 2. Pride (In The Name of Love) by U2, and more.

Several musicians paying tribute to King Jr. over the years following his demise is truly a testament to the resilience of his memory. The world is indebted to King Jr's legacy and courage.

Considering his legacy and work, there is no surprise that he has stood as the inspiration for a wide range of artists over the years. The music industry has been filled with songs that sing about his contributions.

Here in the article we've listed some of the notable songs that lyrically applaud the civil rights leader's work.

10 Songs About Martin Luther King Jr

Why (The King Of Love Is Dead)Nina Simone
Pride (In the name of love)U2
GloryCommon and John Legend
Happy BirthdayStevie Wonder
One VisionQueen
Wake upRage Against the Machine
By The Time I Get To ArizonaPublic Enemy
If I Can DreamElvis Presley
Shed a Little LightJames Taylor
Up To The MountainPatty Griffin

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1. Why (The King Of Love Is Dead) by Nina Simone

Songs about Civil Rights include Why (The King Of Love Is Dead) by Nina Simone. It is a tribute song that honors and praises Martin Luther King Jr.

It is one of the saddest songs with deep emotions given its proximity to the civil rights leader's assassination. It was performed at the Westbury Music Fair in New York just three days following King Jr's demise.

Bassist Gene Taylor has the songwriting credit for penning this song that honors the courage and compassion of King Jr. Penned in the immediate aftermath of the civil rights leader's demise, the song was included on Nina's live album and the lyrics go like:

What's gonna happen now? In all of our cities?
My people are rising; they’re living in lies.
Even if they have to die
Even if they have to die at the moment they know what life is

2. Pride (In The Name Of Love) by U2

Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2 was born from the legacy and life of Martin Luther King Jr. It was dropped in their album The Unforgettable Fire.

The song pays tribute to the civil rights leader like Martin Luther King who fought without violence and died in pursuit of equality.

Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, although the song acquired mixed critical reviews, eventually it became a commercial success garnering mainstream attention across the globe.

Likewise, it peaked at several charts including #33 at Us Billboard Hot 100, #2 on US Billboard Top Rock Tracks, and more. The final verse of the song sings:

Early evening, April four
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the name of love
In the name of love

The final verse indicates the details of King's demise i.e., he was fatally shot on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

3. Glory by Common and John Legend

One of the songs about racism is Glory by Common and John Legend. It is a reminder of the abuse Martin Luther King had to endure.

This song speaks about the unfinished works of King Jr. and police brutality that ended up in civil frustrations exploding in large-scale protests and riots in 2014.

Issued on December 11, 2014, via Columbia Records, the song peaked on the US Billboard Hot 100. With its immense notability, the song made it to the nomination list of several coveted awards.

Glory bagged nine awards out of fourteen nominations. The song is the recipient of Grammy Awards for the category of Best Song Written for Visual Media, Academy Awards for the category of Best Original Song, and more.

The accompanying music video for the song directed by Paramount Pictures was released on January 12, 2015, on Common's official Vevo account.

4. Happy Birthday by Stevie Wonder

Happy Birthday by Stevie Wonder was dropped as part of the campaign to have Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday.

Penned by Stevie in 1981, the song questions why would anyone oppose commemorating King Jr's legacy on his birthday through the lyrics below:

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition

Stevie met King when he was in his teenage and later became his admirer and supporter. Happy Birthday is Wonder's rendition of King's famous speech 'I Have a Dream.'

The singer had a dream of making King Jr's birthday a national holiday. He imagined it, saw it coming, believed it, and kept it until it happened.

5. One Vision by Queen

Atop any list of songs about freedom is One Vision by Queen. This 1985-released song was highly inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.

The lyrics of the song are half scraped from King Jr's widely known speech. It speaks about unity and coming together to acquire a common goal called freedom which is evident in the bridge of the song:

I had a dream when I was young
A dream of sweet illusion
A glimpse of hope and unity
And visions of one sweet union
But a cold wind blows and a dark rain falls
And in my heart, it shows
Look what they've done to my dream, yeah!

There is no sole credit owner for the creation of One Vision but it was a successful group effort. The song peaked at number 40 in the Netherlands, #24 in Switzerland, #26 in West Germany, and more.

6. Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine

A great song about The Civil Rights Movement is Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine. It comes from the rock band's self-titled debut album.

Broadly known for its politically charged lyrics, Wake Up, the explosive anthem sings praises of the civil rights leader, his life, and his legacy.

The lead singer Zack De La Rocha often made speeches about current issues as a substitute for the segment where he reads the J. Edgar Hoover memo aloud.

The lyrics aim at the FBI for its irrational and dangerous targeting of King Jr. Correspondingly, Wake Up references other prominent African-American figures too who the government targeted.

The closing lines of the song paraphrase a part of Martin Luther King's famous speech following the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

7. By The Time I Get To Arizona by Public Enemy

By The Time I Get To Arizona undoubtedly makes it to the list of songs about Martin Luther King. It was released by Public Enemy in January 1992.

When the state of Arizona ended its official recognition of King Jr. Day in 1987; Public Enemy gave their response to the decision with this track.

It is a strong condemnation of the decision to revoke the holiday in both Arizona and New Hampshire. Chuck D, the frontman of the band, penned this iconic song in protest of the state of Arizona.

Dropped by the hip-hop group as a B-side to the single titled Shut 'Em Down in 1992, By The Time I Get To Arizona directly points out the politicians and people who advocated for the dismissal of Martin Luther King Jr's Day.

8. If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley

If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley makes it to the list of songs about peace. It resembles the revolutionary speech I Have a Dream by King Jr.

This RIAA Gold-certified hit song was recorded two months after King Jr's assassination. It was first dropped as the finale of Presley's '68 Comeback Special to the public.

The song embodies the message of King Jr's speech surrounding the wish for a better world with peace and harmony. It focuses on the wish for an ideal world where pain can be transformed into serenity with the lyrics below:

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true
Oh why

The great admirer of King Jr., Presley was left heartbroken after learning about his assassination. The Rock's King reportedly wept whilst watching King Jr's funeral in 1968 on television.

9. Shed a Little Light by James Taylor

Shed a Little Light by James Taylor is a song about dreams. It reflects on the deceased King Jr's dreams and hopes for a bright future.

James truly respects as one of the central heroes who contributed the right things at the perfect time. The true essence of the song highlights that all of us are together in this which is evident throughout the lyrics of the song:

Oh let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love

It instills a sense of belongingness in our minds making us realize that it is the ray of hope amidst adversity that helps us work for the future. The song speaks volumes about the power of dreams.

Taylor credits his parents for imprinting in him a sense of social consciousness. Also, the strong civil-right struggles in his parents stayed with him which led to him penning this song.

10. Up To The Mountain by Patty Griffin

Up To The Mountain by Patty Griffin is one of the finest country music tributes to Martin Luther King. It comes from the album titled Children Running Through.

It was released in 2006 that touches the emotions of King Jr's famous speech 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' that he had given just a day prior to his assassination in Memphis.

The song earned greater prominence following the recordings made by several artists including Kelly Clarkson, Jeff Beck, and more. Clarkson's version of this song peaked at number 56 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

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