Album: King Holiday (1986)
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Songfacts®:

  • This all-star collaboration is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. in celebration of his birthday becoming a federal holiday in 1986. Some big names participated, including Whitney Houston, New Edition, and Run-DMC. Proceeds go to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center For Nonviolent Social Change.
  • The project was spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr.'s son, Dexter Scott King. He hit up the rapper/producer Kurtis Blow to put it together.

    When Dexter King called, Kurtis didn't believe it was him, so he hung up. But King was persistent and eventually convinced Kurtis that he was, in fact, Martin's son, and explained what he had in mind (Kurtis says Dexter sounds just like his dad).

    Kurtis wrote the song with Phil Jones and made a lot of phone calls to assemble the performers. He was a respected pioneer in the rap community, so he had no trouble getting the hip-hop heavyweights on board. (Run of Run-DMC used to DJ for Kurtis and was once billed as "Son of Kurtis Blow"). Rappers Melle Mel, Whodini, and The Fat Boys (whom Kurtis produced) joined Run-DMC, as did the singers El DeBarge, Lisa Lisa, Teena Marie, James "J.T." Taylor (from Kool & the Gang), Stephanie Mills, Stacy Lattisaw and Whitney Houston. Along with New Edition, another boy band, the Puerto Rican group Munudo (with Ricky Martin) took part, as did the group Full Force.

    The project was produced by Kurtis Blow, who told Songfacts, "It was a great, great, great song. I just had a ball producing that song."
  • "King Holiday" was part of a wave of '80s charity collaborations that started with Band-Aid ("Do They Know It's Christmas?") in 1984 and peaked with "We Are The World" a year later. In between was Artists United Against Apartheid with "Sun City," an effort to tarnish the image of the Sun City resort in Apartheid-era South Africa where many international superstars performed despite the racist policy. That project was organized by "Little Steven" Van Zandt and also included Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC and Melle Mel. Steven was a little upset that he wasn't included in "King Holiday," which was due to an oversight.
  • The video was shot at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. It starts with Dexter King answering questions from kids, telling them about Dr. King.
  • The song ends with part of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech. You'll rarely hear it in a song because King's estate has to approve it, which wasn't a problem here because Dexter King was in charge of the project. Living Colour wanted to use it in their song "Cult of Personality," but were denied.

Comments: 1

  • R. Burke from Tallahassee, Fli have always loved this song.to be honest i was beginning to think i was not going to here it again.finally i got a computer and looked it up.i sat down with my daughter and told her the reason it was written.martin luther king day was not always a holiday.she did not know that.
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