Today we begin what will be a monthly discussion of protest songs that JusticeAid is singing, with this inaugural edition focused on the classics—songs inspired by our thoughts around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—his work, his life. Before we get to those selections, we should remember what this is all about—something we tell ourselves at JusticeAid:
There is a reason why we sing protest songs, and there is a reason why we sing in the face of trouble and oppression. When we sing together, we voice aloud our concerns, we trigger parts of our brain that have empathy for others. Sometimes we sing out of anger, sometimes out of love, but always from a place of making change. The song changes the singer, it changes us, and in the right moments, we are the song.
At JusticeAid, we never underestimate the power of a song, and today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we want to share some songs with you.
In the months to come we will focus on protest songs as to different themes or causes, or that have inspired particular people. In the course of this project, we are sure that we will occasionally omit songs that others think are obvious selections (e.g., as to today’s songs, “What, no Dylan, no Joan Baez, no Marvin Gaye?!”). But, we will limit ourselves to 10 primary songs a month, with a playlist containing more (and which will pick up some of those omitted songs). As we choose songs, we will at least briefly explain why, and when we can, provide a video of a key performance of them. And, we promise, in months to come, we will touch today’s protest music, and different genres of music.
This month we focus on songs that we hope you agree directly reflect the spirit of Dr. King’s work—the work to which he sacrificed his life. These are songs that one sings today thinking about the voices that sung them before. But they are not artifacts—they still live and breathe because they are still relevant today. Dr. King’s issues did not die with him—we live them today—racism, institutional and otherwise; economic disparities based on race or origin; a criminal justice system seemingly designed to unfairly impact minorities. These are songs we still sing today, because we need them as much today as we ever have.
With all that said, here are the songs that JusticeAid is singing this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.