I just returned from watching Mockingjay Part 1 with my children. In a crucial scene maybe half or two thirds of the way through the story Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen is asked by a companion to sing song. She honors the request and sings what can only be described as a folk song. The song is recorded and broadcast. Those who are in rebellion against the capitol unite themselves and find strength in the song and commit an act that becomes very important to the rest of the movie. (I will refrain from saying anymore about the plot so as not to reveal any more spoilers than I already have).
Although the Mockingjay is a work of fiction, the power of music and especially folk music is real. As I watched the scenes play out in the movie where Katniss’s song became a rallying cry I thought of different times that music really has brought people together. From drinking songs, to holiday’s, to wars, to great social movements music has been uniting us for thousands of years.
One of the times in the history of the United States when folk music played a large role was the Civil Rights Movement. I have highlighted a number of these songs in this occasional column and I will highlight many to come. Today I wish to highlight a performance of an important song by an artist who recently celebrated her 75th birthday.
Mavis Staples was born in 1939 and became famous as a gospel and blues singer. In the 1960’s she became associated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan. Through these relationships she began singing and recording songs for the Civil Rights movement.
During this time she recorded a bluesy version of an old folk song that was so important in the Civil Rights Movement that PBS/The American Experience would eventually name a documentary after it “Eyes On the Prize“. “Keep Your Eyes On the Prize” was a reworked (rebooted we might say today) version of an old gospel song called “Keep Your Hand on the Plow and Hold On”. The song is all about finding the strength to endure to the end in the struggle for freedom and equality.
Please enjoy this version of “Keep Your Eyes On the Prize” set to images from the Civil Rights Movement.