In honor of MLK’s birthday, here are some songs of freedom. All but the last four were sung by participants of the march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. Of course, they were also shared at other rallies and marches. Many of these songs are from the church tradition.
There are a LOT of tunes that could be labeled civil rights songs. Here is a recent compilation.
God Will Take Care Of You – Aretha Franklin. This is from her great Amazing Grace album. The movie about making that album is also quite worthwhile.
We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder – Bernice Johnson Reagon and Vocal Group. She was a member of the wonderful group Sweet Honey in the Rock, which I saw perform decades ago.
Steal Away – Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole. Mahalia was Martin’s favorite singer, by all accounts. This was on Nat’s short-lived television show on NBC in the mid-1950s, a pioneering effort in its own right.
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen – Paul Robeson. Actor and activist, as well as a tremendous singer.
We Shall Not Be Moved – The Freedom Singers. Performed at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963
Oh, Freedom – The Golden Gospel Singers
If You Miss Me In The Back Of The Bus – Kim and Reggie Harris, who I saw sing in person twice some years back
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize · Robert Parris Moses
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around – The Roots. From the soundtrack to the film Soundtrack For a Revolution (2012)
We Shall Overcome – Joan Baez. She performed at the march on Washington and elsewhere. This performance was in London in 1965
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free – Nina Simone. An anthem.
When Will We Be Paid – Staple Singers
99 and 1/2 (Won’t Do) – Mavis Staples. I most highly recommend the album We’ll Never Turn Back.
Glory – Common and John Legend from the 2014 movie Selma. This was performed by the youth of our church a few years back.