Today marks the 92nd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
King is well-known for his leadership in the American Civil Rights Movement. But not many people are familiar with the deeply personal role classical music played in his life. His mother, Alberta, was a classical pianist, and King studied classical piano as a child. He was also an avid chorister, and his church choir performed at the Atlanta premiere of Gone With the Wind.
He met his future wife, Coretta Scott, when she was a voice student at the New England Conservatory of Music (Time Magazine later called her a "talented young soprano"). Music was an important part of the King family and integral to their civil rights work.
We've compiled a playlist of music in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. It includes tribute pieces by American composers (Hailstork, Schwantner); works by Black American composers who fought for Civil Rights (Price, Still, Dawson, Moore); and music by contemporary Americans whose music examines the fight for equality and justice, such as Jessie Montgomery's Banner.
This playlist also includes a collection of performances by soprano Marian Anderson. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson to perform at DC's Constitution Hall because she was Black. When news of the denial reached Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady resigned her membership in the DAR and arranged for Anderson to perform instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Rather than performing for 3,700 in the DAR's auditorium, Anderson performed for an estimated 75,000 on the National Mall. (A short news clip of her performance, introduced by the Secretary of the Interior, can be seen on YouTube.)
Marian Anderson went on to become the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, and she was a featured performer at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom-- the very same rally at which King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
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