Monday, April 07, 2008

"Why?": Remembering Nina Simone's Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love the music of the Movement and often use it in my classes as a teaching tool. One of the most powerful and moving of all of the Movement tunes is Nina Simone's wrenching song, "Why? (The King of Love is Dead)," which was written in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King's assassination and performed just a few days later. In honor of the 40th anniversary of his death, NPR did a nice short audio piece on the history of the song. Here is how they set it up at their website:

Three days after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, performer Nina Simone and her band played at the Westbury Music Festival on Long Island, N.Y. They performed "Why? (The King of Love is Dead)," a song they had just learned, written by their bass player Gene Taylor in reaction to King's death.

Simone's brother, Samuel Waymon, who was on stage playing the organ, talks with Lynn Neary about that day and reaction to the civil rights leader's assassination.

"We learned that song that (same) day," says Waymon. "We didn't have a chance to have two or three days of rehearsal. But when you're feeling compassion and outrage and wanting to express what you know the world is feeling, we did it because that's what we felt."

Waymon and the band's performance of "Why? (Then King of Love is Dead)" lasted nearly 15 minutes as Nina Simone sang, played and sermonized about the loss everyone was feeling.

The song later appeared on several greatest-hits collections, most recently on the Anthology release from RCA.

The audio report runs about 6minutes and is really worth checking out. I hope you might do so... "Why?": Nina Simone's Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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