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Music of The March

Music of The March

On the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington the Daily Beast highlights the music that accompanied the March on Washington.

One aspect of the March on Washington that can’t be overlooked: the music. It’s around. You can see it. Bob Dylan’s three songs—two, really, as I’ll explain below—have inevitably made their way to YouTube, as has Mahalia Jackson’s song as have Peter, Paul, and Mary’s. Marian Anderson’s “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” doesn’t appear to have successfully completed the social-media voyage, but perhaps even more interestingly, you can see her more historically important Lincoln Memorial performance, her “My Country ’Tis of Thee” from back in 1939 when black people weren’t supposed to appear on stages with white people at all.

in 1963, life and stagecraft weren’t that way. Bob Dylan sang from the same podium and through the same bank of microphones the speakers used. On the same podium where the speakers placed drafts of their speeches, Dylan set down the lyric sheets to “When the Ship Comes In” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” reading from them closely. For Peter, Paul, and Mary, whose habit was to gather around one microphone on an otherwise empty stage, the organizers at least removed the podium. They sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The latter is of course Dylan’s song, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released that May. But Peter, Paul, and Mary had a hit with it—their cover was sitting at number 6 on the Billboard singles chart when the march took place (number one that week? “Fingertips, Pt 2,” by Little Stevie Wonder). So only real folkies would have known, in August of 1963, that it was a Dylan song.

Jackson’s performance, unsurprisingly, is pretty riveting. The song is “How I Got Over,” a spiritual that appears to me to refer to getting over to Heaven but many of whose lyrics can also be read metaphorically about a people striving toward a goal and better destination:

Tell me how we got over Lord

Had a mighty hard time coming on over

You know my soul look back and wonder

How did we make it over

Tell me how we got over Lord

I’ve been falling and rising all these years

But you know my soul look back and wonder

How did I make it over…

Continue reading here.

More stories on the March here.

What songs do you remember? Some videos below:

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