MLK on Jazz


Opening speech at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Humanity and the Importance of Jazz

“God has brought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his
creatures with the capacity to create – and from this capacity has flowed
the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his
environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and
if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest
realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new
hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.

Modern Jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more
complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning,
the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth
which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American
Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists
and scholars wrote of “racial identity” as a problem for a multi-racial
world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was
stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come
from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when
courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when
spirits were down. And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the
particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the
universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs
for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap
hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this
broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of