As we approach another celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it caused me to stop for a moment and think about the music that helped to define the civil rights movement. There are two songs, in particular, that when I hear them, I hear the dreams of a people hoping for a better life in America. The two are “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and “Keep on Pushing” by the Impressions. Both songs were released in 1964 at the height of the civil rights movement.
In “A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke sings about the hardships that he’s encountered, but ends each verse with “But I know that a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”
The Impressions exhorted Blacks to keep reaching higher through verses like, “Now look-a look-a look yonder, what’s that I see? A great big stone wall stands there ahead of me. But I’ve got my pride and I’ll move on aside and keep on pushin.”
What’s interesting to note is that both of these songs that were so important to the civil rights movement became songs of victory during the inauguration of our first African American President, Barack Obama. And, as an African American, I am reminded that less than 50 years ago, my family could not legally live wherever they wanted to or vote, but now through the civil rights struggle – with the music that gave it a resonant voice – I am able to live the dream that Dr. King fought and died for.
The Rock Hall will offer free admission and entertainment on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 18.