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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On The Importance Of Jazz and the Blues for All of Life

 
In an opening address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, reprinted in its program, MLK profoundly related jazz and the blues to universal quests for happiness and the end of oppression, saying: “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.

Here is the full text in two forms:
 

 
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 be-fore 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.

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To hear stunning jazzy interpretations of spirituals and gospel music, go to the “Night Job Trio” playlist on the Alice Wildermuth O’Sullivan YouTube channel.

Below is a video accompanying “Precious Lord”, MLK’s Favorite Hymn with Oakland’s Bethlehem Lutheran Choir, circa 1990, accompanied by “The Night Job Trio” and multiple percussionists.
 

 

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