The historic recording of one of the landmark events in the civil rights movement, issued by Motown in 1963 as The Great March On Washington, is today (6) released digitally for the first time. Out now on Motown/(UMe), it can be purchased and streamed here.
The famous recording was made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on 23 August 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom that also became known as “The Great March on Washington.” The audio of the momentous event was rush-released by Motown as a complete album in October 1963, It culminates with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, an oration truly deserving of the term “iconic.”
Ethiopia Habtemariam, Motown president and executive VP of Capitol Records, recently spoke with Elvis Mitchell, the host of KCRW’s The Treatment, about what Dr. King’s speeches mean to her. You can see that conversation here:
To coincide with the digital debut of The Great March On Washington, Time and executive producer Viola Davis ate inviting the public to explore the history of the event via the virtual reality museum The March. It will be at the Dusable Museum of African American History in Chicago until November 2020, with additional exhibit locations to be announced. Details and tickets are at time.com/the-march/.
The groundbreaking, immersive exhibit recreates the March on Washington and allows visitors to witness “firsthand” the “I Have a Dream” speech, with original audio from Motown. “King’s clarion voice carries without the distracting echo picked up by inferior attempts to capture it,” says Time. “Spectators on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial chime in audibly as King proceeds…making listeners feel as if they’re 10 ft. from the podium.”
Additionally, with inspiration from Dr. King and other key figures in the civil rights moment, BJ The Chicago Kid has created the soulful call to action ‘The People.’ The six-time Grammy nominee wrote the song with frequent collaborator Jairus Mozee (Anderson .Paak, Boney James), who also produced it. The track is released today by Motown Records and available for download and streaming here.
The Great March On Washington also features the famous speech made that day by civil rights activist and labor union rights leader A. Phillip Randolph, who was one of the leaders and organisers of the Great March. After his seven-minute-plus address, which opens the album, Randolph’s erudite speaking voice is heard throughout, as he introduces the day’s other speakers.
They include Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), a longstanding ally of the civil rights movement; Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, who was named its executive director the following year; and Whitney M. Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League and another of the organisers of the March.
The album also contains a stirring performance of the gospel staple ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which became an anthem of the civil rights movement. It was recorded at Motown by its artist Liz Lands, who is accompanied by the Voices of Salvation.
Habtemariam: “I’m beyond thrilled”
“I’m beyond thrilled that we can honour Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy by reissuing this important audio document,” says Habtemariam. “We at Motown want to thank the MLK estate for giving us the opportunity to build on the relationship that Dr. King and our founder, Mr. Berry Gordy, forged over 50 years ago. It was incredibly important to them that the speeches from the Great March on Washington reach the widest possible audience — and that is our objective also.”
Bruce Resnikoff, president/CEO of Universal Music Enterprises (UMe), adds: “We are privileged and honoured to be entrusted by the MLK estate to oversee the release of his historic speech. As the long-time custodians of the Motown catalogue and its legacy, we will ensure that the recordings of Dr. King will be available in the highest quality.
“We have gone back to the original source tapes to digitally remaster this release,” continues Resnikoff, “and the clarity of Dr. King’s voice brings his message to today’s audience in a remarkable way.”
The Great March On Washington is out now as a digital release. Scroll down for the tracklisting, and buy or stream it here.
1. A. Philip Randolph (7:17)
2. Walter Reuther (6:50)
3. Roy Wilkins (10:29)
4. Liz Lands – We Shall Overcome (3:31)
5. Whitney M. Young, Jr. (6:59)
6. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (18:19)