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Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron and Malcolm Cecil Reflect on How They Created Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Jan 20, 2014 07:56 PM EST

Music and politics are often at an impasse. It's arguable the affect music can have as a force behind political motion--and how music can ultimately effect change on a large scale.

John Lennon may have had a handle on the general public, in that it might have been his popularity and public outreach that would allow an artist like him to rally supporters and pass an idea on.

The Folk Revival of the 1950s and '60s, too, may have had a similar impact on general concerns and issues (namely, the Civil Rights Movement that was going on just down the road).

Even at the March on Washington in 1963, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez opened Dr. King's speech with "When the Ship Comes In," certainly a metaphor for the changing tide.

With all that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought before and after his death in April 1968, it still proved difficult to memorialize the late prophet with a federal holiday. Today would have been his 85th birthday, and we must not overlook the efforts of Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron, as they used their public appeal to pass along what would become MLK, Jr. Day.

Initially, the bill was introduced by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and former Senator Edward Brooke in 1971. President Jimmy Carter, then, would use his presidential influence to further the bill in 1979.

Later that year, alas, it would be defeated in the House of Representatives.

In dealing with Mrs. King's protest, Stevie Wonder decided to rally behind the movement, releasing a King tribute song entitled "Happy Birthday" and making it a mission of his "Hotter Than July" tour of 1980.

Malcolm Cecil, renowned producer and engineer, also worked with Wonder and Scott-Heron to pass the bill that same year.

"The thing is, at that time, you're just striving to get your message across. This was something that Gil, Stevie and I all had in common," says Malcolm Cecil.

"We were trying to get the message out. We were trying to do what the job of social commentators in this day and age is. The entertainment people are supposed to be the social commentators. We have the platform and the ear of the public. What we choose to put in that ear is what's important," he continues.

The power of music can ultimately garner the support necessary to accomplish means of great importance. Bob Marley, also, was to headline the "Hotter Than July" tour.

Sadly, Marley contracted cancer.

With all the good that has come from music, it remains starkly apparent that the platforms artists of the day have can be used to accomplish amazing feats. Thus, music and politics can--as it has been shown true--coexist.

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TagsStevie Wonder, Joan Baez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mrs. King, Bob Dylan, Million Man March, Gil Scot-Heron, Malcolm Cecil, Hotter Than July, Hotter Than July Tour, Bob Marly, When The Ship Comes In, Happy Birthday, Congressman John Conyers Jr., Senator Edward Brooke, President Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King