Even before signing of the proclamation to make civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, families across Black America sang the Stevie Wonder’s version of his celebrated song, “Happy Birthday.” The 1980 released tune will usually come after the more traditional “Happy Birthday” melody, with a soulful hand clap and bounce from side to side. Wonder made the song to bring attention to King’s efforts for Black people and how he should have been honored with a holiday. He and many more started the campaign for the day well before it was signed into order by then President Reagan in 1983 and then officially recognized on January, 20th 1986. The day was also just made a federal holiday by the soon to be former President Trump.
With an official song dedicated to the man that gave his life for the betterment of people of all races, the emergence of a new song was experienced by the masses when the single, “King Holiday” dropped in 1986 by the King Dream Chorus & King Holiday Crew. The ode to showing the ultimate love to Dr. King was performed by the hottest R&B and Hip-Hop stars of the times. The King Dream Chorus included: Lisa Lisa of Cult Jam with Full Force, Stacey Lattisaw, El Debarge, Teena Marie, Menudo, Stephanie Mills, New Edition and Whitney Houston. While the Holiday Crew consisted of Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Whodini, Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC.
The separation of the soul genres didn’t come across in the song as much as it did in the billing of it. Both sides meshed well and grooved with a digital funk and futuristic pop that captures the feel of the mid-80s while laying down lyrics that are meant to stick to your heart:
“For the future generation/Dr. King’s medication/For successful operation is peace for every nation/Sing! Celebrate! Sing! Sing! Celebrate! For a King Celebrate!”
Written and produced by Phillip Jones, Kurtis Blow, Mellle Mell, Bill Adler and Dr. King’s son Dexter Scott King, the song has various versions that run from four-minutes to over seven-minutes. It is also spoken of that the one and only Prince, of Purple Rain fame, paid for the production. Regardless of the ways it was pulled together, the message of unity and honoring the man with the message for us to come together, the “King Holiday” song shows us how our talents can endure generations and still inspire change in the face of the adversity of present day America.