MLK and the Power of Song

Every year, the Music Institute of Chicago pays tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a concert by the Brotherhood Chorale, a 180-member all-male choir from the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn.  Their voices joined together are pure power—enough to make you believe that song alone might be able to vanquish all evil from the planet.  Who’s to say that it can’t?  Music certainly played a pivotal role in civil right movement, both in its ability to build unity and strength amongst those rising up and to appeal to the conscience of fellow citizens.  I’d like to share a portion of a speech given by Dr. Mark George, President and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago in January 2011.

“In the past few weeks, I have been asked several times why the Music Institute of Chicago places so much emphasis in its annual tribute to Martin Luther King.  Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to be better as a nation, better as a community and better as individuals.  It occurs to me that, in a small way, striving to be a little better each day, each time you try something, is also what musicians do.  Musicians practice and refine their art every day so that they can express through music what is too powerful or too beautiful for words alone.

This is why I find it no accident that Martin Luther King, Jr. married a musician. Coretta Scott King used her musical talents to support the struggle for social justice.  She wrote and performed many “Freedom Concerts” that raised awareness and raised money for the cause.  Mrs. Coretta Scott King understood the power of music – music that praises the glory of God, music that is an integral part of our most solemn and most joyous rituals, music that raises our awareness, music that can be a vehicle to uplift every individual and every community.

Martin Luther King understood this and musicians everywhere are inspired by his accomplishments.  Dr. King only lived to be thirty-nine years old.  But you know, you can do a lot in thirty-nine years.  You can:

Earn a Bachelor Degree in Sociology

Go on to attain a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology

Preach the Word of God

Speak out against injustice

Author six books

Be arrested thirty times

Win the Nobel Prize

Inspire a nation live out its creed

Inspire us today to serve our fellow man.

It is, of course, appropriate that we honor a great American leader, a great humanitarian, and someone who had such a close connection to the City of Chicago.  We are as inspired by this in the world of music as in any other part of society.”

So here’s to Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.  Long may it live.  And here is to the musicians, the artists, the children, the leaders, the people from every walk of life in every place and time who inspire us to unite against injustices, to be our better selves, and to accomplish all ends without hatred or violence.

* * *

Special thanks to Dr. Mark George for his gracious permission to publish these words, and to the Brotherhood Chorale for their tremendous gift of song.  You can listen to them here. 



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