I Sing Because I’m Happy, I Sing Because I’m Free

MLK Day usually finds me in a slightly sour mood by nightfall. Usually, as today, I’ve had to endure a fair amount of diversity talk. Now, I’m all for pluralism – for me a less fraught word than diversity, because it’s less suggestive of “blacks and whites have different cultures, so let’s be tolerant,” and more suggestive of “there are multiple approaches to happiness and truth, so let’s expand our humanity.” But diversity seems to have so little to do with MLK. The words I associate with him are: justice, unity, and peace. Why do we dodge those concepts?

But I don’t want to be sour. So, let’s play some Mahalia. MLK said she had the greatest voice of a thousand years, though I’ve always preferred Duke Ellington‘s evaluation: “Best cook in America.” I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free – how many people could sing those lines and bring out just how powerful they are? Isn’t the essential struggle to give meaning to words like happiness and freedom, to keep them from ringing hollow? Of course, philosophers and poets and great politicians are always struggling to keep up those meanings. But who can do it better than a great singer? And who’s better than Mahalia?

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