Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Porto Franco Records, 2011)

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From the composer Notes by Marcus Shelby

"The Soul of the Movement"

An important part of the mass meetings was the freedom songs. In a sense, the freedom songs are the soul of the movement. They are more than just incantations of clever phrases designed to invigorate a campaign; they are as old as the history of the Negro in America. They are adaptations of songs the slaves sang: the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns, and the anthems of our movement. I have heard people talk of their beat and rhythm, but we in the movement are as inspired by their words. "Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom" (…)needs no music to make its point. We sing the freedom songs for the same reason the slaves sang them: because we, too, are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that "We shall overcome, black and white together; we shall overcome someday." These songs bound us together, gave us courage together, helped us march together. We could walk toward any Gestapo force. We had cosmic companionship, for we were singing, "Come By Me, Lord, Come By Me. With this music—a rich heritage from our ancestors who had the stamina and the moral fiber to be able to find beauty in broken fragments of music, whose illiterate minds were able to compose eloquently simple expressions of faith and hope and idealism—we can articulate our deepest groans and passionate yearnings, and end always on a note of hope that God is going to help us work it out, right here in the South where evil stalks the life of a Negro from the time he is placed in his cradle. Through this music, the Negro is able to dip down into wells of deeply pessimistic situations and danger-fraught circumstances and to bring forth a marvelous, sparkling, fluid optimism. He knows it is still dark in his world, but somehow, he finds a ray of light.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inspiration for “The Soul of the Movement” arrived as part of a personal journey to learn and understand the principles of the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted these principles of commitment, courage, and creative love-force to be alive in my life today. I also wanted to share the stories of the Movement in a personal and creative way through music. My research included learning about my family’s history of activism during the Movement, and collecting and connecting those experiences to my two children and to the many other school children with whom I work. This research included a residency with the Black Metropolis Research Consortium in Chicago and the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago; a residency with the Rooftop Alternative School in San Francisco; a performance residency with the National Performance Network at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles; and independent study at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

There are 3 musical avenues through which I chose to share my thoughts: re-arranging and re-orchestrating spirituals and freedom songs that resonate with me and which are associated with Dr. King; re-arranging and re-orchestrating music composed by musicians as part of the Movement; and creating original compositions as a reflection of my visits to the South to learn more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Ultimately, the music contains snapshots of my thoughts while discovering this story.