This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. King was in Memphis on behalf of his Poor People’s campaign, an effort to unite low-income people to demand better housing, jobs and education. In his honor, I tried the impossible task of selecting a top ten 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