Artists celebrated Martin Luther King Day the only way they knew how: music. Credit: Album Cover

“For a king, celebrate. Sing, sing, celebrate.”

When you reach the coda at the end of the song “King Holiday” there’s a certain rush you get when Black voices come together to sing in happiness and not in pain. While some would call it cheesy today, the song––created by the “King Dream Chorus & Holiday Crew”––showed artists from various backgrounds united to honor one man and one goal: justice. 

Released in 1986, the same year Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed (and three years after it was declared a federal holiday), it didn’t get as much attention as the condescending “Do They Know It’s Christmas” or “We Are the World,” but “King Holiday” should fall on the average music listener’s radar as much as any other song involving recording artists that would become a parody at the end of the decade.

But the one song that avoids parody is “King Holiday.” Some of it might be about the man it celebrates. Some of it might be about the artists involved. Grandmaster Melly Mel, Run-DMC, Whodini and the Fat Boys provided the raps. El Debarge, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Menudo (featuring a young Ricky Martin), Stacy Lattisaw, J.T. Taylor of Kool & the Gang, Stephanie Mills, Teena Marie and Whitney Houston served the vocals.

Many artists were happy to be a part of it.

“We left our recording session in London to come be a part of it,” said Jalil Hutchins of the rap group Whodini, to the AmNews

“The song King Holiday was the most meaningful production of my career,” Kurtis “Blow” Walker. “It was an honor to work with Dexter Scott King and Phil Jones and all the incredible legendary artists. Rest in peace to Whitney Houston, Tina Marie, Buff from the Fat Boys, Prince Markie Dee from the Fat Boys and Ecstasy from Whodini, and Jam Master Jay from Run DMC. A Big RIP and thanks to my friend Prince for paying 90,000 for us to shoot the video.” 

Walker reiterated the $90,000 story on the website VladTV. So did Hutchins.

“Prince really paid for the whole thing quiet as it’s kept,” said Hutchins to the AmNews

We weren’t able to confirm this with the King family who didn’t respond to requests for comment.

But considering a life filled with under-the-radar charity work, it’s easy to assume that the Prince story is true. It’s also easy for one to assume that it won’t stop people from believing it. Prince outwardly practiced the joy of love and celebration while pushing for justice on a smaller scale. King was doing it for the world. 

His legacy lives on in Black Lives Matter, a disparate group with one belief: their lives are valuable as those of white Americans and Americans of all colors. It’s a push to end racial discrimination and reckon with America’s past atrocities. Just like King. A lot of things have changed, and a lot haven’t. But no matter what…

“Sing, sing, celebrate.”

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