The Music That's Moving Us

Rev. William Barber speaks wth NewsOne about the importance of geting out the vote.

By The Rev. Dr. William Barber

If you’ve been to a Moral Revival service or a Moral Day of Action, you know how important music is to this movement.

Yara Allen, our ethno-musicologist, often teaches about how music shapes the memory of our bodies, telling us the truth that is down deep in our bones. “Ain’t Gonna Let No Body Turn Me ‘Round” is more than an anthem. It is the rhythm of our resistance to injustice. It is a cadence to remind us that the way things are is not the way things have to be.

The prophets of old knew that they could not bring a Word from the Lord without first inviting the minstrel to lead the people in song. Likewise, Dr. King knew he could not speak a prophetic word to the nation until Mahalia Jackson led the people in a song. “Tell ‘em about the Dream, Martin,” she said from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. The words we most remember are words from a song: “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almightly, I’m free at last!”

In the midst of our Revival tour, I got a call from Mr. Harry Bellafonte inviting me to come and preach at the Many Rivers Festival outside Atlanta, Georgia. We were preparing for back-to-back meetings in Indianapolis and Louisville, following a training and service the week before in Richmond, which I had to leave early to support the movement on the ground in Charlotte, North Carolina. I almost said we were too busy to come. 

But then I thought again about the role music plays in our movement. And I knew I needed to stand with the artists and song leaders who were gathering to sing freedom’s song.

I read from the prophet Daniel about how the Babylonian king set up a golden statue of himself and said everyone was to bow down when they heard the royal song. But three Hebrew children didn’t bow down. They refused and were thrown into a fiery furnace. But the fire didn’t burn them. And the people saw a fourth person standing with them in the flames.

When the king’s song said to bow, those children had a song in their spirits that told them to stand together.

If we ever needed those songs, we need them now. It did my spirit good to see 40,000 people in a Southern field, out under the night sky, singing along with Common and John Legend, Sweet Honey and the Rock and the Morehouse College Glee Club.

This Moral Revival has been about bringing the movement into the church house, the mosque and the synagogue. But it is also about bringing church into the public square—even out into a field. Because a movement is stirring, and we need true songs in our spirit to remind us that we must never bow to anything less than justice.

And we ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.