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Soundtracks: Songs That Defined History. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Executive Producer Dwayne Johnson. His new CNN Original Series "SOUNDTRACKS: SONGS THAT DEFINED HISTORY" starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shall overcome!

ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER MAYOR OF ATLANTA: You've got to be crazy. To think you're going to change the world that way. But he was doing it.

CHARLES NEBLETT, SINGER: Music was the glue that held everything together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sound track to African-American resistance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Music is absolutely a vehicle for revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That kind of courage changed how I viewed human beings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were free, but not equal.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been a long time coming, but tonight change has come to America!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the music that carries our history. It's the music that carries our emotions. It's the music that transports us back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tear down this wall!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is how we remember history. This is how we put it in context.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So look at history through the lens of music. It's a powerful way to see the world.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., ACTIVIST: I've been hit so many times, I'm immune to it. All right.

HARRY BELAFONTE, SINGER: History has made more leaders than leaders have made history. And in this great and very intense need by the black community, a young man emerged by the name of Martin Luther King. Almost as if it was a mandate.

KING: I think it's one of the most tragic pictures of man's inhumanity that I've ever seen.

I'm convinced as I stand before you tonight that the system of segregation is on its deathbed, and the only thing I'm certain about is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence was shot to death late today in Memphis, Tennessee,.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: King was shot as he's still in the balcony in front of room 306 in the Lorraine hotel.

ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We were getting ready to go to dinner to Reverend Kyle's house. We were waiting for Dr. King to get ready.

He went upstairs, put on his shirt and tie. When he came out, I suggested that he put on a coat. Because it was April, and it was chilly at night. And he just sort of lifted his head as if to say, do I really need a coat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a shot rang out that clipped the tip of his chin, and severed his spinal cord. So I don't think he even heard it. Much less felt it. When I got to him, even though his pulse was still beating, it was very clear that it was all over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital emergency room. He died at 7 o'clock Central Standard Time from a gunshot room in the neck.

AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: It came across the screen that Dr. Martin Luther King has been shot in Memphis. And my mother started crying. Like a member of our family died. Because Dr. King in her mind, and the mind of her generation was the bridge that brought them across the isolation and humiliation of segregation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to leave you with a tune...

SAM WAYMON, NINA SIMONE'S BROTHER: We were on our way back to America at the time when we heard about Martin Luther King.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.

WAYMON: It was as though a truck, a Mack truck had drove a hole right through our hearts. All 18 wheels of it. Out of that was born "The king of love is dead."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank god for giving us the leader who was willing to die, but not willing to kill.

CRAIG WERNER, AUTHOR: Simone has always been committed to the movement. She expressed the pain that the African-American community felt.

WAYMON: She was devastated, angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You miss it. That is yours, isn't it?

SIMONE: It's my song. I composed it out of through anger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through anger. You don't look like you can be angry at all.

SIMONE: All the time.

SALAMISHAH TILLET, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Nina Simone was a jazz musician. She was born in the segregated south. Her "Mississippi Goddamn" is one of the, if not the most racially transient critique of the American song book.


JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Some has said Dr. King is going to buffer the last two years between the black community and white community. The white people do not know it, but the white people's best friend is dead.


WAYMON: "Goddamn" in song has a very powerful impact. "Mississippi Goddamn." And she couldn't come up with a better word. Got her in trouble. It was banned.


SIMONE: The tune reflects the times and situation in which I find myself. That to me is my beauty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don't think you can help but be involved.

DAN RATHER, JOURNALIST: Race relations have gone to the depths. The country was beginning to explode. I don't know of any other verb to use.

GREG TATE, WRITER: In the wake of Dr. King's assassination, hundreds of American cities go up in flames, and the National Guard and police are under siege just because of that. Our militant black rage is literally going to war.


WAYMON: Revolution is fine. Revolution starts when somebody says, I've had enough.

DAVID CROSBY, SINGER: The entire country should have been burning. Not just the black ghetto. He wasn't just a hero for black people, he was a hero for all of us.

ZELLIE IMANI, ACTIVIST: We're standing on the lost tradition of people who fought for our rights. And to know that liberation is not something that is going to be really quick and easy. It's going to be something that's going to take years and years.



PETER YARROW, SINGER-SONGWRITER: I was in Memphis, Tennessee,, the year after Martin Luther King was shot. And we had a march. And all of a sudden a bomb went off. It was a smoke bomb. And you would expect people would lie down on the ground that there were, I mean, there were thousands of us. Nobody moved. We crossed arms, and we started singing. You know, we started singing -- we shall overcome. We shall overcome.

And just stood there. And that was our shield. The Civil Right moment was the first awakening in the United States that ordinary human beings could stand together and change the course of history.

You cannot imagine what it was like before the Civil Rights movement. You know, there were times when there was a lynching virtually once every three days in this country, with no repercussions legally.

RATHER: It's very hard to imagine it. But, you know, it takes guts, it takes tremendous courage to say, I will walk in a peaceful demonstration, although I know I may be shot. I know they may club me. They may turn the dogs on me. They turn the (Inaudible)

It takes tremendous courage. A kind of valor, if you will, which is uncommon. What helped the people who were doing that were singing these songs.

RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, JOURNALIST: Singing "We Shall Overcome" was different from just marching around. It was a feeling that this was actually going to happen, that there was something in the harmony of the song that made sense musically. It was only a matter of time before it made sense socially.

[22:14:54] NEBLETT: "We Shall Overcome" is an old negro spiritual. It's called "I'll Overcome." It was used in the labor movement. It became the theme song. People just accepted it.

Four of us came together. They call us the freedom singers. We sang everywhere. We sang at house parties. We sang at Carnegie hall. To take the message of this movement to the north, that Dr. King would do sometimes.

Dr. King was a heck of a preacher, but he wasn't that much of a singer. Mass means you sang, on picket lines you sang, and in jails you sang. Music was the glue that held everything together.

TODD BOYD, AUTHOR: In the Civil Rights movement, it was an integrated movement. African-Americans from the south who were influenced in a religious way, and whites from the rest of the country who were supportive of the ideas of the Civil Rights movement.

(PETER, PAUL & MARY PERFORMING) YARROW: We were steeped in an understanding that music was part and

parcel of the grassroots effort to create a better world. And that platform for music was a platform for advocacy.

JOAN BAEZ, SINGER: When your mother gave me five children to try and register.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't go in. Nobody (Inaudible) for pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joan Baez was important because she showed up in the most difficult places.

BAEZ: I'd like to try.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joan Baez was an international star at that point. She was very concerned about civil rights.

YOUNG: I have a picture of her in Grenada, Mississippi, walking right along behind Dr. King and me and a couple others. And we were there because a mob took kindergarten children and threw them through plate glass windows to keep them from getting close to the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they have to kill me, I'm going.

YOUNG: I had one reporter actually tell me, look, Andy, I know you don't like the press getting in your way. But I got to keep a camera on Martin Luther King. Because if he gets killed, and I don't have a picture of it, I'll lose my job.

CROSBY: He knew there were riffle (Inaudible). There were people out there looking to kill.

KING: We will build a brotherhood under guarded by trust and overarched by love!

CROSBY: That kind of courage changed how I viewed human beings. They can do acts of exemplary humanity that have a great resonance and that rippled through society. And people are inspired by him. That's Dr. King.

KING: This is why I can still sing "We Shall Overcome." We shall overcome because our (Inaudible) universe has long but it's been towards justice.

YOUNG: He used to say the movement was a collection of people, and he included himself, who was certifiably insane. He said nobody in their right mind would think they were going to take on the federal government, and the world, and all of these state courts, and police, and everybody else with no money, no guns, no political power, nothing but an idea in your head and a song in your heart. And he said, you've got to be crazy. To think you're going oh change the world that way. But he was doing it.

YARROW: The Civil Rights movement didn't happen because there was an emancipation proclamation, it happened because the people gave their all. They gave their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your nationality?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My nationality is African-American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do you want your freedom young man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want freedom now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can wait till next week, you pay attention.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael, you just have to wait until next week. You can't have it now. Are you willing to wait until next week?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you going oh get your freedom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will use anything necessary to get my freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any means necessary?


SHARPTON: The walls of Jim Crow started coming down. But in the aftermath of the '60s, the legislation was there, but the application wasn't there. Yes, we've got the foundation, but we haven't built anything on the foundation.

It was almost like when slavery ended about 100 years before that. OK, you all are free. You can leave. Leave and go where with what and do what? We were free, but not equal.

DAPHNE BROOKS, YALE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: What is this moment that we're in now, the post-Civil Rights movement. This moment of legislative racial equality? When I can still be profiled on the street?

So music becomes a gateway for African-Americans to articulate their hopes, their desires, their longings, their social critiques.


BROOKS: Aretha called upon this long black musical tradition of gospel fortitude.

YOHURU WILLIAMS, AUTHOR: "People get Ready," there's a train coming. People are inspired by the movement. She bends the song which sounds like an old spiritual, here's your chance, get onboard. There's a movement taking place.

By 1968 when Aretha's version comes out, she's got this memorable refrain in the beginning, I believe. It opened this idea that the struggle is not over. There are still major obstacles to be overcome.

Police brutality, economic inequality. And here's Aretha in 1968 singing, I believe that a triumph not only over racial injustice, but economic inequality are possible. And for that reason, it was a very powerful song.


NELSON GEORGE, AUTHOR: She was such a representation of black power. I mean, literally, her voice was an instrument beyond anybody's reckoning. It's one of the greatest voices in American history.

Her ability to travel across racial lines, and to bring an unbridled power, sexuality, but also rage. She became an embodiment of blackness, of a kind of soulfulness that was the essence of our people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are black! Our noses are broad! Our lips are thick! Our hair is nappy! And we are beautiful! And we are beautiful! We are beautiful!

GOLDSTEIN: The early '60s, you have the hymns of unity and change. Once the black power movement comes along, the hymns fade and are replaced and replaced by much more militant sentiments in the music. You have the assertion. The rhythms, and the sort of starkness.

MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXER: There are many white people who mean right and in heart know want to do right. But there's so few. If 10,000 rattlesnakes was coming down in aisle, Neil, and I had a door I could shut, and then the 10,000, 1,000 meant right, 1,000 rattlesnakes didn't want to bite me, I knew they were good, should I let all these rattlesnakes come down hoping that that 1,000 and get together and form a shield? Or should I just close the door and stay safe?

SHARPTON: You couldn't see people that had big frost that Shakey's and frisky (Ph) saying we shall overcome. It just seemed incongruent.

KATHY SLEDGE, SINGER: And all of a sudden there was a sense of identity through style. And music. James Brown. They are loud. And the feeling, of course, of pride.

BOYD: I must have been 5 years old, and my aunt bought me a t-shirt. It an image of James Brown with an afro. I loved that t-shirt. I remember I used to rub my hand over James Brown's image.

SHARPTON: James Brown was unapologetically black. And made it. This is the first time that we saw white America wanting to be us. Real blacks.

BROOKS: So with James Brown it was always about articulating blackness lyrically, but also sounding it out.

JAMES BROWN, SINGER: We do things for ourselves. We got to beat the head against the wall, it's working for someone else. Say it loud.

[22:29:59] GOLDSTEIN: James Brown is not Nat King Cole. It's a very assertively black idiom with an assertively black message. Say it loud on black and crowd. Almost anyone could sing that actually and start to believe it.

JAMES BROWN, SINGER: Proud, keep your head up high and do what you got to do, as a people.

ROBERT FINK, UCLA HERB ALPERT SCHOOL OF MUSIC CHAIR: James Brown had a very self-consciously bootstrapping kind of individual motion of what it meant to be black in America. A man can't accomplish anything if he isn't proud of who he is.



YOHURU WILLIAMS, AUTHOR: Plenty had changed in America by virtue of the Civil Rights movement. The beginning of the integration of schools. You have the election of black elected officials.

[22:34:59] ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: When we get black voters voting in large numbers, we'll have a politician elected that will represent all the people. And when politicians represent all the people, we'll have a new hope in America.

WILLIAMS: You have the opportunity for African-American artists to reach the highest success. You have opportunities for companies like Berry Gordy's "Motown" to become one of the preeminent American success stories of that period.


NELSON GEORGE, AUTHOR: The '70s were an expensive time for black music. The black album market is really introduced. And you have Marvin, you have Isaac, Barry White. It's an amazing period. And Stevie was coming of age at the right time.


WILLIAMS: One of the responses to Civil Rights is the industrialization. White flake. Stevie Wonder is living for the city catalogs the six degrees of segregation. Housing, education surrounded by four walls that aren't so pretty.

AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: After the -- after the Civil Rights movement, here we are in the valley, drugs had come in. Dysfunctional communities. And the music reflected that.

TODD BOYD, AUTHOR: It's poetry, but it's also summing up social, economic issues that define urban black America. It's about survival, living just enough, just enough for the city.

STEVIE WONDER, SINGER: The problem with Motown is I came to it when I was 9 years old, and so not only did they consider me an artist, but they consider me on this luck of child. I experienced a lot of others the different and new, beautiful things, you know, that would cause me to write a certain way. SMOKEY ROBINSON, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Stevie is very politically

conscious. Stevie is a man who wants the world to be better. We all want the world to be better. But Stevie, he lives it.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Congress was urged today to make the birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. a national holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. King did not speak for all black people and all Hispanics. He spoke the truth which represented every living American member of the melting pot.

JEFF CHANG, JOURNALIST: We need to memorialize the break-throughs that the Civil Rights movement had achieved, pushing us towards a more diverse society and a more just society.

THOMAS O'NEILL, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Greatness has been proven by this man. I urge my colleagues, give Martin Luther King his day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Helms insisted there should be no holiday for Dr. King.

JESSE HELMS, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: But he attacked this country in the most vicious way.

NELSON GEORGE, AUTHOR: I went to D.C. with Stevie, did the big rally out in front of the capitol building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building that use to gather here brought us here, that Dr. Martin Luther King inspired the entire nation.

GEORGE: The King Holiday representation of can we take the Civil Rights movement and make a monument to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As an artist, my purpose is to communicate a message that can better improve the lives of all of us.

DAPHNE BROOKS, YALE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: So Stevie Wonder really led this fight to make sure that a person of color could have a day that we can all come together and really reckon with the legacies of this man who transformed modern life.

GEORGE: He figured out a way to write a new happy birthday song, which is brilliant in that people can sing along. And a lot of people has no idea that it was about Martin Luther King's birthday in any way, shape or form.

BROOKS: It's one of our most important kinds of songs that does the kind of political work, even when you're not thinking about it.

SHARPTON: I do not believe we would have ever had Dr. King's holiday if Stevie Wonder had done that song. I told Stevie years later, you sang that song into legislation.

[22:40:00] ANDRA DAY, SINGER: Well, I was in '84. But you know, just growing up and learning about that holiday and learning about what he sacrificed. First of all, you're grateful for the people who give up their very lives, you know, for the simple liberties that I have today.

But it means everything, you know. I think it shows us how far we have come. But also, how far we still have to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the unity of all people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the '80s, America abandoned inner cities.

GEORGE CLINTON, SINGER: Everybody was moving out of their homes. And that's what you get a lot of, you know, social flack. To me I called it socially engineered anarchy induced chaos.

CRAIG WERNER, AUTHOR: Civil Rights felt like it had been abandoned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to tell you.

SHARPTON: The Civil Rights movement that we saw in the south and never really dealt with, the latent racism in the north.

[22:45:07] So when we started seeing killings in New York, we used some of the tactics in the south, marching and all. But it was in an urban context. And it was in our style. So we were a lot more defiant. Though we were nonviolent. But we were more in your face, because we were in New York.

CHANG: In 1989, America's racial contradictions are coming home. On the one hand, this is, you know, the peak of school desegregation. And then on the other hand, there's a rise of hate violence. And into this cauldron of racial tension, Chuck D, "Public Enemy" release by the power.

CHUCK D, SINGER: "Public Enemy," the young black male situation in America, we feel we're all public enemies. You know we have a logo that has a cross sign. We feel that represents ourselves, and anybody in our situation.

GEORGE: "Public Enemy" had already been the most political rap group, at the time they are probably and still probably the black group ever. They were not afraid to invoke the Nation Of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, likes national politics.

Today we're taking from additional black oppositional politics that was different than the mainstream ones. No one else had really had the balls to consistently use that as a base of operation.

BOYD: Sampling, you know, it's a musical practice. But I've always thought of it as a way of recognizing musical history. So, one way to look at "Public Enemy" and "Fight the Power" as though they're speaking with the ancestors, the brothers James Brown, and through sampling, they're bringing the ancestors to a new generation of African-Americans. WILLIAMS: So here was this group in 1989 at a moment where African-

Americans are under assault again. Saying, we've got the blueprint for how to fight this. And that blueprint is what happened in the '50s and 1960s. You've fought to fight power. We've got to stand up. We've got to present our bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Part of the black freedom struggle has always been about thinking of this larger kind of redemption that was waiting for us. That we need to be ready, that we need to be prepared, and that we also need to make that change.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time change has come, it's not because a particular leader created all that change. What's happened is that a movement began, of people who are saying we want a change.

And a leader says, you know what, if I can walk with you, if I can march with you, if I can work with you, if I can be alongside you, I want to help, I want to roll up my sleeves, I want to make a change!


I just want to be a part of creating a better America!

SHARPTON: Barack Obama walks out with his family. And he starts speaking.

OBAMA: Put their hands on the arc of history, and bend it once more towards the hope of a better day. It's been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

SHARPTON: And when he said, change has come to America, I thought about how my mother played that little 45 record at home, Sam Cook.

BROOKS: The arc of history is bending towards moral justice in that song. He turns the desire for racial justice into a love song to the country but also to African-Americans to remind them that the future tells us something different as long as we can harness it.

[22:50:11] OBAMA: Now a preacher from Atlanta who told the people that we shall overcome. Yes, we can.

DAY: It was emotional first of all. But I think what really got me was when I looked at my father and how emotional he was and having tears in his eyes. And when I looked at my grandmother, she was completely broken.

You know, she's been alive almost 100 years, she's seen a lot. And to have her to be able to witness him being elected into office. I mean, that was -- it gives me goose bumps thinking about it now.

ROBINSON: I was so proud. I was proud of America. Black people didn't elect Barack Obama. America elected him. Were it not for all the races of people in America who voted for her, Barack Obama would have not been president. CHANG: When Obama was elected there was a feeling maybe we crossed the threshold. And there's a lot of exuberance, maybe an irrational exuberance, that we had overcome.


ZELLIE IMANI, ACTIVIST: I became involved in the Black Lives Matter movement on August 9th, 2014 when Mike Brown was brutally killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. We knew that every 20 hours a black person was killed by police officers or vigilante.

And we knew that we couldn't rely just on our president.


That we really had to rely on ourselves.

Jesse Jackson came to Ferguson and we marched to one particular church. I think he tried to have us sing, you know, "We Shall Overcome."

GEORGE: That's not where these kids are coming from. They're not going to question church like that, they don't have the same tradition.

IMANI: The song doesn't tell us when we shall overcome. It says we will overcome some day. What we in the streets wanted, we wanted justice now.

And people start to chant to march "We were going to be all right."

CHANG: There's a spirituality through that song that resonates back through the great music of the Civil Rights movement.

It's about seeking collectivity and becoming aware of that higher power can move us forward. It's a leap of faith.

SALAMISHAH TILLET, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: It's multiple messages. One, like you're going to be all right, we're going to get through this day, and we're going to be here tomorrow, and we're going to fight to save this nation, and fight to save ourselves.

It also is like, we're right. This is a morally righteous cause.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a funny story of the Civil Rights era woman, who writes for the Washington Post. Was given the record to listen to. Hated the Kendrick Lamar. Hated alt-right, found it foul and disgusting. I said well, that means it's really, really working.

CLINTON: He's meant to get on your nerves with new stuff. And they will do it, because they don't want their grand mom or mom or older brother's sound. Kendrick Lamar came in and talked about everything. It's the best record that he had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember he was conflicted. I mean, she was in the air (Inaudible) Sometimes I did the same. BROOKS: There's a hip-hop coolness swagger, as a kind of weapon, as a

kind of tool to fight every day battles. It's about the message of an inner voice, what's happening right now is excruciating. But big picture, we going to be all right.

JASON KING, SINGER: When it seems like there is no hope at all. Music can provide that hope, music that transports you. It beams you to this other place where freedom is possible for African-American people in a way that was being denied to them in the political present.

I think Martin Luther King's legacy, the legacy that we should really take to heart is that America as a country, although it has great promise has not reached its potential yet. It is still a work in progress, and the country in many ways needs to be radically reconstructed to include all of these different voices and people who make up the fabric of what this country actually is.

It's amazing, so many decades later, these are still the same questions that we're asking.

If we really want to honor Martin Luther King's brilliant legacy today. I think we have to try to enact what he was trying to do and make it a reality rather than just a dream.