8 Songs for Your Martin Luther King Day Playlist

It's not often enough we get to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speeches so here's a playlist of songs that sample MLK speeches or reference his legacy.

By Jorge Rivas Jan 16, 2012

It’s not often enough we get to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, so with the help of a few readers on Twitter, I compiled a list of songs that actually sample MLK speeches or reference his legacy.

Listen to the songs and then the MLK’s speeches that inspired them right below.

Happy MLK Day!


Jay Electronica x Tone Treasure — "Jazzmatazz"

In December 2010 Jay Electronica released "Jazzmatazz," the song
rnsamples MLK’s historic last speech "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop."


Bobby Womack — "American Dream"

Robert Dwayne "Bobby" Womack released "American Dream" in 1984. The song samples MLK’s "I have a dream" speech.


Common — "A Dream"

Common’s "A dream" was produced by Will.i.am for the film ‘Freedom Writers.’ It was released in 2006 and samples MLK’s "I have a dream" speech.


Stevie Wonder — "Happy Birthday"

"Happy Birthday" was written, produced, and performed by Stevie Wonder for Motown in 1981.

Wonder became one of the main figures in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday. He wrote this song to raise awareness and support for the campaign.

You’ll have to click-through to YouTube to listen to the song but below is a snippet from the "Happy Birthday" lyrics.

I just never understood
rnHow a man who died for good
rnCould not have a day that would
rnBe set aside for his recognition
rnBecause it should never be
rnJust because some cannot see
rnThe dream as clear as he that they should make it become an illusion
rnAnd we all know everything
rnThat he stood for time will bring
rnFor in peace our hearts will sing
rnThanks to Martin Luther King


Public Enemy — By The Time I Get To Arizona

When Public Enemy released "By the time I get to Arizona" in 1991, Arizona and New Hampshire were the only states that did not recognize the Martin Luther King holiday.

The song is aimed at former Arizona governor Evan Mecham who he refused to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday.

This song samples "Two Sisters of Mystery" by the ’70s Funk band Mandrill. The music video stirred some controversy, as it depicts the the governor being assasinated with a car bomb.


U2 — "Pride"

U2 released "Pride" in 1984. 

This began as a song about US president Ronald Reagan–Bono had lyrics written condemning Reagan for an arrogant pride that led to nuclear escalation–but after seeing an MLK exhibit at the Chicago Peace Museum in 1983, the band re-wrote the song to honor King’s legacy.

Coretta Scott King approves of the song! She invited the band to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta in 1984 and the band stopped by during their 1984 US tour.

"We are fortunate this year to honor Bono for exemplifying many of the qualities that my husband, Martin, indicated were imperative to moving our society into the beloved community of which he so often spoke," Coretta Scott King said at a 2004 awards ceremony at the King center.

Below is a verse of the song:

Early morning, April 4
rnShot rings out in the Memphis sky
rnFree at last, they took your life
rnThey could not take your pride


U2 — "MLK"

There’s more.

The last song on the group’s fourth album entitled "Unforgettable fire" is called "MLK," another tribute to MLK.


Black Flag "911 For Peace"

Anti-Flag released "911 for Peace" in 2002. A reader pointed out the song samples MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech at the 2:30 minute mark.


Dr. King’s Last Speech With Autotune

This last video is a bonus.
rnA YouTube user uploaded a snippet of MLK’s "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" …with autotune.