10 Songs Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, the world observes the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. King’s contributions to the social and political sphere of the United States are innumerable.

Over the years, the global musical sphere has become filled with songs inspired by or dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This list shows the variety of artists that were inspired by the legacy of Dr. King.

I Have A Dream
Common feat. Will.i.am (2006)

Sampling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, Will.i.am and Common joined forces for a track that appeared on the soundtrack for “Freedom Writers.” “My dream is to be free,” Will.i.am sings on the chorus, while Common shares verses about struggle, pain and hope. Even the rap generation respected Dr. King’s struggle.

Pride In The Name Of Love
U2 (1984)

If listeners have any doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. is the subject of “Pride (In the Name of Love),” Bono’s lyrics three minutes in drive the point home: “Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride.” However, history buffs will note that the song, which was the lead single off U2’s 1984 album “The Unforgettable Fire,” contains a factual error — MLK’s assassination took place in the early evening, rather than the early morning. But that didn’t matter to music fans — the Edge’s guitar jangle at the beginning of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” is one of the most recognizable riffs of the era.

By The Time I Get To Arizona
Public Enemy (1991)

“By The Time I Get To Arizona” was written by Public Enemy’s Chuck D in 1991 as a direct reply to Arizona officials, including John McCain and Fife Symington, for rejecting the federal holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Just last year, the song’s sentiments resurfaced when the same state’s governor, Jan Brewer, decided to sign into law the Arizona immigration bill, which gave police the power to detain people they suspect to be undocumented, proving that the same politics written about in “By The Time I Get To Arizona” are alive and well in Arizona today.

Happy Birthday
Stevie Wonder (1981)

Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” track was written in 1981 by the pianist/social activist as part of the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday. The song’s lyrics, above keyboard synthesizers, find Wonder questioning why anyone would oppose to commemorating King’s legacy by setting aside a day for him. “I just never understood, how a man who died for good/could not have a day that would be set aside for his recognition,” he sings. Preach, Stevie!

King Holiday
King Dream Chorus and Holiday Crew (1986)

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was shared by many, including the Fat Boys, Menudo, El Debarge, New Edition, Run-D.M.C., the late great Teena Marie and an early Whitney Houston. Here, the all-star cast gets together to sing and rap in honor of Dr. King and what he believed in. Never mind the antiquated, low-budget, low-quality video — this one is for the history books!


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