The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. was the Abraham Lincoln of his age – a Great Emancipator. To celebrate his birthday, here is Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.” | January 18, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Today we celebrate the birthday of the civil rights pioneer Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Ear thinks of him as The Great Emancipator of the modern age.

As the Abraham Lincoln of our age.

Just as Lincoln freed slaves, Martin Luther King Jr. (below) helped free so many members of different social groups from discrimination.

martin luther king 2

Blacks, of course.

But also women.



Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Disabled people.

The poor.

The old and elderly.

So it seems fitting, then, to listen to Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

The Ear loves the way that the Gertrude Stein-like repetitions of Lincoln’s own words build into a moving testament of the need for both compassion and democracy – a combination that today’s right-wing freedom-spouting and Constitution-citing bigots might do well to cultivate.

So we can listen about one man and think about the other.

Here is a great version, in a YouTube video at the bottom, with actor Henry Fonda as the narrator. There are other fine versions, including one with Leonard Bernstein conducting and composer Aaron Copland speaking the narration. But this version is the one that most moves The Ear.

And please leave your COMMENTS about this offering or other music appropriate to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day for others to read.


  1. Wisconsin Public Radio are also live-streaming (on their internet web site at the MLK day celebrations from the Madison capitol. Live at 12:00. You can watch live or listen.

    As I am listening to them now, they have the great black singer Leontyne Price singing some opera arias (she was the first black to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company).

    Good stuff by WPR!

    Comment by fflambeau — January 18, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

  2. Agree, great post Tim Adrianson. I note that WPR has on its classical music internet/radio cast a work by William Grant Still on MLK day.

    Congratulations to them!

    Comment by fflambeau — January 18, 2016 @ 8:21 pm

  3. One nice thing that NPR could do on MLK day is program a whole block of time devoted to Black composers — George Walker, Adolphus Hailstork, William Grant Still, Florence Price, Ulysses Kay, Margaret Bonds, Duke Ellington, et al. There’s certainly enough to fill, say, 3 – 4 hours worth of quality music. This is not even counting the immense contribution Blacks made to the origins and ascent of Jazz — an entirely new type of serious musical composition that fully deserves to be referred to as “Black Classical Music”.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — January 18, 2016 @ 10:55 am

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Excellent suggestion and excellent examples.
      Thank you.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 18, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

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