Religious and civil freedoms have a long history of representation in music–and the Milken Archive of Jewish Music’s collection is no exception.
President Washington affirmed his belief in the First Amendment on August 18, 1790 when he wrote a letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island–one of the oldest Jewish communities in the States–declaring that, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” David Diamond gives mention to and quotes part of that letter in Aḥava-Brotherhood, which was commissioned in1954 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the American Jewish community. Listen in.
Nearly 200 years later, Jews joined black Americans as they marched for civil rights in the 1960s. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the August 28,1963 Civil Rights March on Washington was combined with texts from the Bible and from Jewish sage Hillel in Dave Brubeck’s The Gates of Justice, which was composed in 1969 with the goal of ameliorating tensions between Jews and African Americans that developed the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. “Because of their long history of suffering, Jews and American blacks know better than any other people the consequences of hate and alienation,” Brubeck wrote in 1969. “The spiritual and emotional ties, born of suffering, which bind these people together, have much to teach all of us on this shrinking planet.”
Here, Brubeck sets these words to music in styles that range from Jewish cantillation (Movement 1: Lord, the Heavens Cannot Contain Thee) to Negro Spiritual (Movement 7: Shout unto the Lord) to the Beatles and Mexican mariachi band music (Movement 9: How Glorious Is Thy Name).
For its finite period of relatively open and unchecked immigration, and for its perceived acceptance of other nations poor, disadvantaged, and downtrodden masses, America was frequently if sometimes simplistically glorified in songs and poems as the ultimate haven of refuge -- the bastion of freedom for the oppressed and persecuted, and the most likely place for the pursuit of their dreams. No doubt the most famous words to that effect were penned by Emma Lazarus in her sonnet The New Colossus, which is best known today for the engraving of its last four and a half lines on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty at its main entrance.
Irving Berlin used an extract from Lazarus’s poem for the lyrics to his song Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, the final number of his 1949 Broadway musical comedy, Miss Liberty. The movement will be featured in the Milken Archive’s upcoming Volume 12, Legend of Toil and Celebration Songs of Solidarity, Social Awareness, and Yiddish Americana.
Photo by @StatueLibrtyNPS via Flickr
MORE FROM THE MILKEN ARCHIVE: