Let Freedom Ring: A Classical Playlist To Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 3, 2018
A photo negative of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., at a 1964 press conference. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. 
A photo negative of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., at a 1964 press conference. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. 
Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress
A photo negative of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., at a 1964 press conference. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. 

Updated January 16, 2021

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.

More from CPR News:

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

Listen to CPR Classical on Monday for more music that pays tribute to King’s life and legacy. At 1 p.m., a musical celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. with music by Pulitzer-Prize winning American composer, Joseph Schwantner. New Morning for the World (Daybreak of Freedom) is set to some of the Civil Rights Leader's most powerful words. The music, written over 25 years ago, is now a classic. Also listen for more African American contributions to classical music through the day, including composers like William Grant Still, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and composers of our time, like Michael Abels, Jessie Montgomery and Mary D. Watkins (who hails from Denver).

The Spotify playlist below features some of the best MLK tributes by classical musicians and composers. It includes 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.