Top 10 Civil Rights Songs

Top 10 Civil Rights Songs

The civil rights movement has resonated deeply with generations of musicians.


This Monday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day marks what would have been the 91st birthday of the fallen civil rights leader. King, the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the Nation’s civil rights correspondent, writing annual reports on the state of the movement for the magazine from 1961 to 1966. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and assassinated in 1968.

In King’s honor, I tried the impossible task of selecting a top 10 list of songs about civil rights. The theme has resonated deeply with generations of artists of all stripes and inspired considerable musical tribute; this list is meant simply as a starting point for discussion (and listening). I present it in random order. I know I missed a lot.

1. Mavis Staples, We Shall Not Be Moved

2. The Impressions, People Get Ready

3. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come

4. Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam

5. Phil Ochs, Here’s to the State of Mississippi

6. Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changin’

7. The Roots, Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round

8. Gil Scott-Heron, 95 South, All of the Places We’ve Been

9. Sweet Honey in the Rock, Eyes on the Prize

10. The Staple Singers, Freedom Highway

Bonus Track: Otis Spann, Blues for Martin Luther King

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