On Saturday musicians in the Flathead Valley performed original songs about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life at the eleventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration hosted by Love Lives Here, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network.
Whitefish resident David Walburn wrote two of the songs. Walburn grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He remembers listening to Martin Luther King, Jr., on the radio while studying music in college. I spoke with him a few days before the celebration about what inspired his work.
David Walburn: I was asked by Erica Von Kleist to participate. She's kind of putting the whole thing together. I'm known around here as a songwriter, so I guess she thought maybe I could come up with something.
And I gravitated toward, immediately, the awakening, which I interpreted as his spiritual awakening, as a young man. And then, the dream.
You want to hear some of it?
This one is called 'Jesus and his love,' and I just felt - I had this lick, I'd been playing it for awhile - it's a really pretty melody, but no words were coming up until I got the request to write the song, and it came out, which is kind of neat.
(plays and sings)
Every time you turn a fist into a hand
And an enemy is made your friend
Because you turned the other cheek and would not fight
Keep Jesus and his love, Jesus and his love, Jesus and his love alive
So that's Jesus and his love, and I thought it was just kind of - I tried to wrap it around what he might have been feeling and thinking as far as how he was going to pursue equal rights and, you know, non-violence. And so hopefully it works.
Nicky Ouellet: You mentioned that sometimes an image pops into your mind and then you use the words to help you audience kind of see that same picture. I saw a couple images in there, but what are the ones that first popped into your mind as you were writing this song?
DW: The first one was the non-violence, the fist into the hand. When it comes to songwriting, or any kind of writing, everything has been thought of, everything's been said, there's nothing new. What is new is how do you say whatever it is you're trying to, that can be new. It's not that I'm saying anything new, it's just how you're saying it.
Being from the South, and I was at the University of Georgia, I used to listen to the Martin Luther King speeches every Sunday, they'd play them. Before I would go into to do work in the studios I would listen to his speeches, and I was just amazed. They always seemed very lyrical in the way he spoke, and of course always had that religious overtone to them.
His whole 'I have a dream' speech, I could listen to that - it's like one of the prettiest songs I've ever heard. It's absolutely just so well written, there's not a wasted word, and as a songwriter I'm kind of - I try to write in that respect, that there's no wasted words, there's no extra words, there's no - everything is right where it's supposed to be.
NO: That was Whitefish singer-songwriter David Walburn, who performed at the eleventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration hosted by Love Lives Here in Whitefish. Montana Public Radio will air the full performance Monday, January 15 at 8 p.m.