Black History Month Music - Archived

Sam Cooke              Curtis Mayfield
Marvin Gaye      Ben E. King

Last month during Black History Month, our Sunday Morning services including some wonderful songs by Black musicians.  There is always a story behind the music.  Our choir director researched some of those stories and here they are.

In February, to honor Black History Month, we featured music by Black composers, arrangers, and songwriters in our Sunday services. In case you missed it, here is a brief history of some that we featured:

Sam Cooke was born in 1931 and grew up in Chicago. He was a singer and songwriter and considered one of the most influential soul artists of all time, often called the “King of Soul.” In 1964 he recorded “A Change is Gonna Come,” which pertained to the civil rights movement and came to him as a result of listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Cooke had 30 top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964 plus 3 more that were released posthumously. He was shot and killed by a hotel manager in 1965. He was 34. (Offertory: “A Change is Gonna Come”)

I was born by the river
In a little tent

Oh, and just like the river, I’ve been running

Ever since
It’s been a long
A long time coming, but I know
A change gon’ come
Oh yes, it will

Curtis Lee Mayfield was born in 1942 in Chicago and spent his youth singing in his aunt’s gospel choir. When he was 14 he was recruited for a group called The Impressions. Two years later they recorded their first album and would later be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Dubbed “the gentle giant,” Curtis was a singer/songwriter, guitarist and record producer and considered one of the most influential musicians behind Soul and politically conscious African-American music. In 1965 he wrote “People Get Ready” for The Impressions. It was ranked at No. 24 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, among other awards.

In 1970 he began a 20 year career as a solo musician. In 1990 stage lighting equipment fell on him and he was paralyzed from the neck down. Though he could no longer play guitar he worked out a way to sing by laying on his back and letting gravity pull down on his chest and lungs. In 1996 he recorded his last album this way, recording each song one line at a time. He died in 1999. (Offertory: “People Get Ready”)

There ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just
To save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the Kingdom’s Throne

So people get ready
For the train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming

Don’t need no ticket
You just thank, you just thank the Lord

Marvin Gaye recorded the song “What’s Going On” in 1970. The song was conceived by Obie Benson of the Four Tops when their tour bus arrived in Berkeley, CA on “Bloody Thursday.” They witnessed the police brutality and violence directed at the anti-(Vietnam) War protesters at People’s Park. Benson asked “What’s going on?” And then “Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets?”

The Four Tops did not record the song, so Benson approached Marvin Gaye who wrote his own melody and added his own lyrics. Benson encouraged him to record it as his own song. It has been ranked as high as No. 4 on the Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs of all time and received many other awards and nominations. (Offertory: “What’s Going On”)

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, yea

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on

Ben E. King was born in 1938 and grew up in New York City. He was an American singer and songwriter who rose to prominence as one of the principal singers of the R&B group, The Drifters. As a soloist he is known primarily as the singer and co-composer of “Stand By Me” which became a top 10 hit in 1961 and again 1986. It was inspired by Sam Cooke’s “Stand By Me, Father” as well as the 20th century gospel hymn “Stand By Me” by Charles Albert Tindley. It has been recorded by more than 400 artists including notaby Otis Redding, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, 4 the Cause, Tracy Chapman, musicians of the Playing for Change project, Florence and the Machine, and the Kingdom Choir (for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle). (Anthem: “Stand By Me”)

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