Music Break: MLK

On this date in 1964, the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr.

This beautiful little song was written by M. Ward for Mavis Staples, based on a King speech called “The Drum Major Instinct,” which King delivered on February 4, 1968, exactly two months before he was assassinated. The speech is about following Jesus’s teachings by aiming to serve others, rather than seeking recognition or fame at the head of the parade.

As he winds up his speech, King says that, in that light, he’s been thinking about what he’d want said at his funeral. “Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important…. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.”

The great Mavis Staples is a Chicagoan who has performed since childhood, now with her own band but in her early years as one of the Staple Singers, a legendary gospel, R&B and soul group. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a friend of her family. Mavis Staples says she had to stop at times while recording this song, because it was as if she could hear and see him.

Today, I want to remember King. For the Nobel Peace Prize, but more as he wanted, as a person who tried to serve others. (As we all can.) That he tried to love not hate. (As we all can.) That he helped somebody as they passed along. (As we all can.) That in the crawl for justice he helped somebody run; that in the walk for the hungry, he fed someone; and that in the march for peace, he played the drum.