Online photos of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tend to focus on the pivotal moments of his life, such as his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial or his mugshot from an arrest that spurred him to write his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” If you look a little deeper, you’ll find pictures of more intimate moments with his family, sitting at a piano, sharing music.
King received his first piano lessons from his mom and sang in his dad’s church choir and later in the Glee Club at Morehouse College. It didn’t take him long for him to realize that music and civil rights went hand in hand. Music helped to galvanize those fighting for freedom, marching arm in arm to Washington and Selma singing “We Shall Overcome,” “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” and other songs of resistance.
King’s primary musical loves were jazz and blues. He called them “triumphant music.”
Paul Freeman, a Black composer and conductor, founded the Chicago Sinfonietta. He was lucky enough once to have a chance meeting with King in the Atlanta airport at 2 a.m. Freeman told King he was there to guest conduct the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“The last bastion of elitism,” King replied. “… Glory hallelujah!”
But Freeman said he was not at all insulted or discouraged by the comment. In fact, he was emboldened. His mission was to find ways to make the orchestra more inclusive, more diverse.
“Music — classical music, in particular — should be available to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, creed, religion, gender or age,” he said.
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
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