The 25 Most Important Civil Rights Moments in Music History

John Coltrane Records "Alabama"

Date: November 18, 1963

Early morning, September 15, 1963: four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a box of dynamite under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bomb was detonated a few hours later, murdering Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, ages 11-14. The incident became a lightning rod for the Civil Rights Movement. It also inspired jazz legend John Coltrane's elegaic "Alabama," recorded two months later on November 18, 1963. The song's a mournful tribute; according to Martin Smith's 2003 Coltrane biography John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistence, Coltrane's solo was patterned upon King's "Eulogy for the Martyred Children," the speech Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at the girls' funeral. That same year, Coltrane performed the song live on television's Jazz Casual, in front of a spellbound national audience.

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