Songs Inspired By The Civil Rights Movement

"Glory," "Respect" and more songs.


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Happy MLK Day -  Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy, the civil rights icon who fought for equality and was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at only 36 years old. Music has always been a huge part of the civil rights movement; take a look at some of the artists and songs that inspired the fight for justice.(Photos from left: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures, William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images) 


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The Impressions – 'People Get Ready' - Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions set the tone when they released "People Get Ready" in 1965. "People get ready there's a train coming/ You don't need no baggage, just get on board/ All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming/ You don't need no ticket, just thank the Lord," they sang.(Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns)


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Aretha Franklin – 'Respect' - Aretha Franklin's "Respect" had women and Black people feeling proud of themselves when she she reworked Otis Redding's hit. The 1967 chorus still rings loud today, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ Find out what it means to me..."(Photo: Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty Images)


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The Staples Singers – 'Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)' - The Staple Singers's music spoke a lot on the trying times of Black people during that era and in 1967 they released this song about the Montgomery bus boycotts and Jim Crow laws. Pops Staples supplied the heavy guitar riff and sang, "You know I'm all alone while I sing this song/ Hear my call/ I've done nobody wrong/ But I'm treated so bad."(Photo: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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Nina Simone – 'Mississippi Goddam' - Like many artists during her time, Nina Simone didn't just make music to support the protests but she was also active in the marches and rallies, unafraid to take risks. This 1964 cut, a response to the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and a church bombing in Alabama by the KKK, was banned in several Southern states.(Photo: George Pickow/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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John Coltrane – 'Alabama' - Jazz legend John Coltrane wrote and recorded this somber number in 1963, also in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15 of that year. The Ku Klux Klan's actions that day killed four African-American girls. (Photo: Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)


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Mavis Staples – 'We Shall Not Be Moved' - Mavis Staples put a spin on an old Negro spiritual called "I Shall Not Be Moved" and it became a staple of inspiration for freedom fighters. Putting the movement's goals in clear perspective, Mavis, an activist herself, sang, "We shall not, we shall not be moved/ We're fighting for our freedom/ We shall not be moved."(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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Mahalia Jackson – 'We Shall Overcome' - "We Shall Overcome" was a protest and gospel song sung by many marchers during the civil rights movement and taken to new heights when gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sang on it. Jackson performed it at many rallies during the 1960s, helping to raise money for the struggle.(Photo: CBS via Getty Images)


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Syl Johnson – 'Is It Because I'm Black?' - Soul and blues singer Syl Johnson made several records on the Black experience and how racism played a huge hand in keeping brothers and sisters down. In 1969, he released this song to the oppressors, "You keep on putting your foot on me/ But I, I've got to break away/ Somehow and someday."(Photo: Kirk West/Getty Images)


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Sam Cooke – 'A Change Is Gonna Come' - Sam Cooke set many precedences as one of the first artists to own his own label. In 1964, he released this track, one of his biggest hits, which became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Cooke wrote the song from personal experiences he endured during the Jim Crow era and vowed, "It's been a long time coming/ But I know a change is gonna come/ Oh, yes it will."(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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James Brown – 'Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud' - The "Godfather of Soul" released this Black Power Movement and Civil Rights anthem in 1968. James Brown's funky groove also took aim at white suppression with lyrics that included, "Some people say we've got a lot of malice/ Some say it's a lot of nerve/ But I say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve."(Photo: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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Common and John Legend – 'Glory' - Common and John Legend were able to create the feel, magic and struggle all in one when they recorded the hit song "Glory" as the theme for the 2014 film Selma. "That's why Rosa sat on the bus/ That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up/ When it go down we woman and man up," Com rapped.(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)