When you think of Americans—or people anywhere—who truly changed the United States and the world for generations to come, there aren’t very many that come to mind. However, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is certainly a member of those hallowed few. As a preacher, civil rights leader and progressive activist, he inspired many and moved the needle in America despite vigorous pushback. We might not see him as a controversial figure now, but during his lifetime, he was nowhere near unanimously loved. It’s truly tragic that he never lived to see the progress that he helped set into motion, but there are still lessons to be learned and wisdom to be mined from his words and actions, especially today.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Paste is sharing audio from a celebration of his life, which took place at the Kennedy Center in 1984. Performances came from Patti LaBelle, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary), Tramaine Hawkins, Phyllis Hyman and more, as well as speeches from Stevie Wonder, Dick Gregory, Patrick Duffy, Louis Gossett Jr. and others. You can hear two powerful musical highlights below: Labelle’s fiery, groovy performance of “The Spirit’s In It” and Baez’s reverent “Oh Freedom / Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
Listen to highlights from 1984’s Kennedy Center celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. below.