As on previous observances of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Rifftides remembers him with one of the most eloquent pieces of music to arise out of the civil rights struggle in the United States in the 1960s. The John Coltrane Quartet played it on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual telecast in 1963.
John Coltrane, tenor saxophone, composer; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.
Coltrane made the initial recording of “Alabama” on November 19, 1963, two months following the white supremacist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham. Four girls—three of them 14 years old, one 11—died in the blast, leading King to wire Alabama Governor George Wallace,
…the blood of four little children … is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder.
It was a crucial event in the movement for federal civil rights legislation, which passed in 1964. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.