A photo negative of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., at a 1964 press conference. King was assassinated 50 years ago, on April 4, 1968. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

Music plays a powerful role in stories about Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredible life as a civil leader. Protest songs and spirituals played a key part in the marches and protests that changed the nation decades ago.

In fact, fellow civil rights leader Jesse Jackson told The Guardian that King’s last words were a request to have the song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” performed at a rally scheduled for the night of April 4, 1968. An assassin’s bullet killed King moments later.

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In the wake of King’s assassination 50 years ago, countless artists have honored him through music.

Listen to CPR Classical on Wednesday for more music that pays tribute to King’s life and legacy.

The Spotify playlist below features some of the best MLK tributes by classical musicians and composers. There’s a choral cover of U2’s moving “MLK” by The King’s Singers, “Epitaph For a Man Who Dreamed” by composer Adolphus Hailstork, as well as a sampling of spirituals interpreted by trombonist Kenneth Thompkins.