10 Songs Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We Shall Overcome
Bruce Springsteen (2006)

The Boss’ 2006 ” Seeger Sessions” disc featured this protest tune as its centerpiece. “We Shall Overcome” could conceivably be applied to most instances of widespread oppression, but its origins lie within the U.S. civil rights movement in the middle of the century. The song soars, gaining momentum (and instruments) until the tune is brimming with the encouraging spirit of MLK’s hopeful mantra.

One Vision
Queen (1985)

“Look what they’ve done to my dream,” sings Freddie Mercury over a Stones-esque guitar lick in this 1985 single off “A Kind of Magic.” Mercury sounds altogether vibrant, singing positive verses of a hope for unity against vivacious instrumentation. Oh, and those masked vocals at the beginning of the tune? “God works in mysterious ways… mysterious ways…” Indeed, Queen, indeed.

Like A King
Ben Harper (1994)

This track off Ben Harper’s 1994 debut “Welcome to the Cruel World” is a rootsy folk tune, the allure of which lies in its stalwart political stance. “Like a King” draws parallels between MLK and Rodney King, a victim in the early-’90s L.A.P.D. police brutality cases. Harper’s stance on the matter is easily discernible — “Martin’s dream,” he avers, “has become Rodney’s worst nightmare.”

U2 (1984)

Perhaps, to some, it is a surprise that an Irish band would be the one to create two of the most prolific songs about an American historical figure, but that fact just goes to show MLK’s influence worldwide. “MLK,” a brief lullaby, shows up on the same album as “Pride (In the Name of Love),” but the two songs couldn’t be more opposite. Both songs led to Bono being honored by MLK’s official memorial, the King Center.

Dream Speech
The Gregory Brothers’ Auto-Tune the News (2009)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known more for his speeches and activism than his singing ability. But when the Gregory Brothers began their series of auto-tuned video speeches and news stories, auto-tuning MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a no-brainer. As with most Gregory Brothers remixes, the resulting “song” isn’t incredibly catchy. But for what it lacks in catchiness it makes up for in its overall message of unity, which has not been lost in the vocoding process.


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