Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day specifically set aside to honor the life and legacy of one of the single-most influential civil rights leaders in our country’s history. Since its earliest days, the music industry been at the cultural forefront when it comes to honoring political activists through song, and MLK Jr. is no exception. From hip hop to rock, from soul to EDM, here are the 10 most noteworthy samples and shout-outs about the fallen civil rights icon in music history.
1. “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, U2
“Early morning, April 4 / Shots ring out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / But they could not take your pride,” Bono sings in this standout track from 1984. Students looking to write papers on MLK should note that King’s 1968 assassination took place in the evening and not the “early morning,” but a minor historical miscue like that does not rob this tremendous song of its inspirational power.
“Sweet King Martin, sweet Queen Coretta / Sweet Brother Malcolm, sweet Queen Betty / Sweet Mother Mary, sweet Father Joseph, sweet Jesus / We made it in America,” Frank Ocean sweetly sings on the album closing track of Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch The Throne, paying tribute to those whose actions charted the course for African-Americans to have the kind of success that Jay, Kanye and Frank all enjoy today.