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A Classical and Jazz Tribute Honoring the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on WRTI

Getty Images/Alex Wong
The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. is seen at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.

WRTI proudly remembers Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with special classical music and jazz programming honoring the remarkable legacy of the civil rights leader and visionary, born 92 years ago. Below are details about what we have planned.Debra Lew Harder kicks off our tribute on Saturday Classical Coffeehouse with music that touches the soul, including "We Shall Overcome” with Lara Downes and the Chapin Sisters, “Soon One Mornin’ Medley,” arranged by Joseph Jennings and sung by Chanticleer, and "Come Sunday,” performed by Duke Ellington with City of Birmingham Symphony, Simon Rattle conducting.

You'll also hear “Mother and Child” by William Grant Still played by violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around/ eyes on the prize” sung by Keith Spencer, “Go Down Moses” played by The King’s Brass, “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” with Rochester Community Gospel Choir and Megumi Kanda, trombone, arranged by Rev. Alvin Parris III.

On Monday, during classical hours, you'll hear the words of MLK and the stories of other Black Americans whose work transformed our country. Tune in during the morning hours with Gregg Whiteside to hear part of Dorothy Rudd Moore’s opera, Frederick Douglass and later on Paul Moravec’s oratorio, Sanctuary Road, based on the book The Underground Railroad by Philadelphian William Still.

We’ll have a very special Morning Meditation at 11 AM with Bliss Michelson when you'll hear a performance blending two unlikely companions: the Sarabande from Bach’s fifth cello suite, and John Coltrane’s Alabama, a work written in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

The afternoon will be full of special selections illuminating even more figures championing social change, both past and present. You'll hear St. Louis composer Barbara Harbach’s Freedom Suite, inspired by a meeting with the descendants of Dred and Harriet Scott. Bishop Yvette Flunder, known for her ground-breaking leadership in San Francisco’s church community, joins Chanticleer for a stunning rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Kevin Gordon will bring you recordings by the Morehouse and Spelman Glee Clubs and spirituals from some of our most treasured contemporary interpreters, including Angel Blue and Lawrence Brownlee. Flix@Five will showcase the film scoring of composer Kris Bowers, with an excerpt from his soundtrack to the 2019 Emmy-nominated Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, based on the lives of the five wrongly convicted and later exonerated Black teenagers of the 1989 Central Park jogger case.

Of course, the day won’t close without "Lift Every Voice and Sing"Imani Winds doing the honors—and a contribution from our very own Philadelphia Orchestra. This year, we’ll enjoy an encore performance from their 2019 MLK Tribute Concert of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, with narrator Charlotte Blake Alston sharing the words of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

On the jazz side, Ryan Gottlieb will kick off our celebration of Dr. King starting on Saturday at 6 PM, with a special installment of Jukebox Jazz, shining the spotlight on jazz renditions of popular songs from the time of the Civil Rights Movement. From Nina Simone singing The Byrd’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to Charles Lloyd playing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” these familiar sounds will serve as a tribute on this weekend of observance. You will also hear songs of freedom from Reggie Quinerly, Brian Bromberg and Dion Parson.


Sunday’s In A Mellow Tone will ease you into the holiday with songs of hope, faith, peace, and unity. Starting at 9 PM, Ryan will feature tunes including Pat Metheny’s “Unity Village,” Geri Allen’s “A Prayer for Peace, “ Frank Kimbrough’s “Hope” and many other peaceful pieces to honor the man who gave so much to humanity.

Bob Perkins will pay tribute to Dr. King by presenting music written in honor of his legacy starting at 6 PM on Monday night. Songs named after Dr. King will be highlighted, including tunes from The Chip Shelten Peacetime Ensemble, Bobby Watson, Sonny Stitt featuring Big Joe Turner, and many others. BP will also feature songs synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement. Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade In the Water,” Louis Armstrong’s version of “We Shall Overcome,” and Charles Lloyd’s take on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will be played, amongst others.

At 9 PM, Ms. Blue continues honoring Dr. King with music from Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited, and Max Roach’s We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite. There will also be fitting pieces from John Coltrane; “Alabama” and “Song of the Underground Railroad,” commemorating King’s purpose. Nina Simone’s “Why? The King of Love Is Dead” will be the featured track from the Jazz Album of the Week Nuff Said.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.