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Songs Of The Civil Rights Movement

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther Jr. delivered the opening address to the Berlin Jazz Festival.

"Jazz speaks for life," King said. "The blues tell the story of life's difficulties — and, if you think for a moment, you 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."

King was born in 1929. Thirty-six years later, in 1965, he led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., a march that was instrumental in the passing of the Voting Rights Act five months later. This year, on Jan. 20 — one day after the national observance of King's 80th birthday — we witness the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States.

What follows are jazz and jazz/blues versions of some of the songs that sustained the civil-rights movement in the 1960s (and beyond) through the setbacks, the hardships, the failures and the many hard-won successes that have moved America ever closer to racial equality. If you feel inspired to sing along, you certainly won't be alone.

This story originally ran Jan. 19, 2009.

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Nick Morrison