Songs of freedom, for MLK

One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours

mlkIn 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.

Kennedy Center Honors 2016

James Taylor: “I had no concept of where I might be next week, never mind 16 years into the next century.”

martha-argerichAs I’ve noted often in this space, I watch the Kennedy Center Honors every year. It’s like a well-oiled machine, with the event taking place in early December (this year Sunday, December 4), then edited down for broadcast in a two-hour slot on CBS-TV the week between Christmas and New Year’s (this time, Tuesday, December 27. 9-11 p.m. EST).

The host of CBS’ Late Show, Stephen Colbert, will return to emcee the Kennedy Center Honors 2016; this is his third consecutive year. This year’s honorees are Al Pacino, Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples, and James Taylor and the Eagles.  Generally, the President and First Lady sit in the box seats with the honorees, while others sing, dance, or speak in tribute to the honorees.

Martha Argerich – the one person I must admit I did not know about. This Washington Post title is interesting: Martha Argerich is a legend of the classical music world. “But she doesn’t act like one.” She says:

“‘But I don’t understand, because I think I haven’t done much in America.'”

“Not much, that is, apart from appearing with most of the country’s leading orchestras: the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic… Argerich always plays with other people now; she never enjoyed the loneliness of appearing solo on a concert stage, and around 1981 simply decided not to do it anymore… She strides out on stage like someone in a tremendous hurry and plunges right into the music, often leaping up as soon as she has finished.”

LISTEN to Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1. Martha Argerich, piano – Charles Dutoit, conductor (1975)

James Taylor – he’s James Taylor. He has helped honor previous winners such as Yo-Yo Ma, last year’s winner Carole King, and, with Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney. Taylor wrote on his page:

“Having grown up in the confines of Chapel Hill, NC in the 1950’s, I found myself, at the age of 18, on my own in Greenwich Village in the mid-60’s. It was a time of great change, many dangers and near complete freedom, purchased at the cost of any sense of a secure future. I had no concept of where I might be next week, never mind 16 years into the next century. So the prospect of attending the Kennedy Center Honors again, but this time as an honoree, is astonishing. I am deeply moved to be included in such august company and hugely grateful to the Kennedy Center Honors for the gift of this great award.”

LISTEN to James Taylor ༺♥༻ Greatest Hits (1976)

Mavis Staples – I wrote about her in 2011 and about the Staple Singers in 2014 (her, her sisters, and her father).

Al Pacino – I have actually seen him in relatively few films.
The Godfather (1972), Serpico (1973), …and justice for all. (1979), Sea of Love (1989), Scent of a Woman (1992) – which I did not much like, The Insider (1999), Danny Collins (2015)

WATCH Top 10 Al Pacino Performances

The Eagles – in anticipation of their award, I wrote about them this past summer

The Kennedy Center Honors 2016 is the 39th annual event.

S is for the Staple Singers

This century, Mavis Staples, who was the primary voice on so many of the Staple Singers’ songs, has been putting out several well-received albums.

Staple-SingersA major competitor of Motown serving up black music in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s was STAX Records, which I wrote about extensively HERE.

One of the great groups on the label was The Staple Singers, “an American gospel, soul, and R&B singing group. Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha (1934–2013), Pervis (b. 1935), Yvonne (b. 1936), and Mavis (b. 1939)… While the family surname is ‘Staples’, the group used the singular form for its name, ‘The Staple Singers’.”

They had appeared on other labels before joining STAX, releasing songs such as For What It’s Worth [LISTEN], a cover of the Buffalo Springfield hit, that went to #66 in 1967 on Epic Records.

When Will We Be Paid (1970 – a description of the song HERE)
Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom) (#27 in 1971)
Respect Yourself (#12 in 1971) – my favorite song of theirs
I’ll Take You There (#1 in 1972) – my second favorite
If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me) (#9 in 1973)
Let’s Do It Again (#1 in 1975) – their big hit on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label, after STAX’s demise
The Weight, with The Band, from the 1976 movie The Last Waltz

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

This century, Mavis Staples, who was the primary voice on so many of the group’s songs, has been putting out several well-received albums. The first one I picked up was 2007’s We’ll Never Turn Back. “Produced by roots rock and blues musician Ry Cooder, it is a concept album with lyrical themes relating to the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Upon its release, We’ll Never Turn Back received positive reviews from most music critics. It was also named one of the best albums of 2007 by several music writers and publications.”

99 and 1/2
I’ll Be Rested

“During a December 20, 2008 appearance on National Public Radio’s news show ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,’ when Staples was asked about her past personal relationship with [Bob] Dylan, she admitted they ‘were good friends, yes indeed’ and that he had asked her father for her hand in marriage.” She ultimately said no, because the interracial relationship would have been too difficult back in that period.

Finally, LISTEN to a live version of Wrote a song for everyone, a tune from her 2010 album You Are Not Alone. That album was produced by Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

It’s 9/9

EVERYTHING the Beatles put out, including music that stiffed in 1962 or 1963, charted in 1964.

Have I mentioned how much I like it when the month and the day are the same? 9/9, for instance, reads the same whether one is in the United States or the civilized world.

Here are some 99 songs:
99-Toto What the heck IS this song about? According to Wikipedia, it’s a tribute to George Lucas! I did not know that.

99 Luftballons – Nena
99 Red Ballons – Nena
Whether in German or in English, the song is about paranoia during the Cold War.

There’s an old gospel song called 99 & 1/2, sometimes written out Ninety-Nine And A Half, usual with the parenthetical (Won’t Do), about giving one’s all to God. You’ll find a LOT of versions of it on YouTube. I’m picking a version by Mavis Staples of the legendary Staples Singers, a tune that I own and love. This version has a civil rights orientation, thanks to additional lyrics by Ry Cooder & Mavis.

Also, there’s a soul classic of the same name by Wilson Pickett, with writing credits attributed to Wilson, Steve Cropper, and Eddie Floyd. It’s about wanting all of somebody’s love. The lyrics are different, but the two songs are pretty much the same.

Finally, this being the third anniversary of the Beatles’ digital releases, et al., I should put in something by that group. Revolution #9? Well, I guess not. The 18th song to chart on the US charts was one in which the Beatles were merely a backing band to a singer named Tony Sheridan. It only got to #88, but EVERYTHING the Beatles put out, including music that stiffed in 1962 or 1963, charted in 1964.
Here’s Why.

Mavis Staples is 72

“I loved Bobby enough to marry him, but I just was not ready to get married.”

One of the great voices in music is Mavis Staples. First as the lead singer of the Staples Singers, with hits such as Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There, and currently, with her blues/gospel fusion, she’s still performing.

This segment from CBS Sunday Morning in April 2011 noted that she STILL doesn’t know what keys she sings in, even after 60 years of performing. The story also revealed this:

Mavis Staples has a lot of stories to tell, but here’s one you probably didn’t see coming: Bob Dylan asked to marry her.
“That’s true. It’s true. I may as well tell it now,” she said.
Yes, love was apparently in the air for the teenage singers. They “courted” (as Mavis puts it) for 3 years or so. But finally, Mavis says, she called it off.
“I didn’t think I wanted to get married right then,” she said, “And then another thing, you know, I would wonder about what would Dr. King think about me marrying a white guy?
“And so I told Pops about that, and Pops said, ‘Mavis, didn’t you see all them white people marching with us?’ All white people weren’t bad back then. I loved Bobby enough to marry him, but I just was not ready to get married.”

Some songs by Mavis Staples:
99 and 1/2
Eyes on the Prize
You Are Not Alone, acoustic version with Jeff Tweedy

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