arrow
bar_big image

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the Importance of Jazz

Angelika Beener
Contributing Writer
angelikabeener[at]gmail.com / @alternate_takes

Today history is made.

This morning, the first monument of an African American on the National Mall in Washington D.C. will be dedicated by, among many other distinguished figures, the first African American President of the United States. With all of the turmoil and strife going on in our nation today, sadly including the continued practices of racial and class discrimination that Dr. King sacrificed his life to help end, this is indeed a proud day.

In honor of this day and Dr. King, I would like to share a speech that you may or may not be aware of. It's a speech Dr. King made from the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival.

On the Importance of Jazz
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Opening Address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

Angelika Beener is the creator of and writer for Alternate Takes, a progressive music blog which takes on jazz within a variety of social contexts. She is an award-winning producer and host with awards from The New York Association of Black Journalists and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Follow her on Twitter.