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Taping of "Martin Luther King Jr: A Celebration of Life" - Stevie Wonder

Source: Ron Galella / Getty

If you ask most Black people in America to sing the “Happy Birthday” song, they will probably belt out the marvelous lyrics to Stevie Wonder’s version he wrote for one of America’s most prominent figures.

In 1981, Stevie Wonder wrote the song “Happy Birthday” as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a campaign for the establishment of a national holiday in honor of the civil rights icon.

At the time, there was a growing movement to have a federal holiday to commemorate the birthday of Dr. King, who had been assassinated in 1968. Even though many states and cities had already established a holiday to honor King, the campaign for a national holiday was facing significant opposition.

Wonder, who had been a strong supporter of the civil rights movement throughout his career, wanted to do something to help the campaign. So, he wrote “Happy Birthday” as a way to raise awareness about the importance of establishing a national holiday to honor Dr. King.

The song was an immediate hit, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and staying there for three weeks. Not only was it an enormous commercial success, but it also helped draw attention to the campaign and put pressure on politicians to pass legislation establishing the holiday.

In 1983, a bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. The holiday was first observed in 1986, and it is now observed every third Monday in January.

M.L.K. Gala 01-13-1982

Source: Rick Diamond / Getty

The song is not just a birthday song, it’s also a musical tribute that reminds us of one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, a holiday that honors him as well as an inspiration for many activists to fight for their rights, especially for the African American community.

Wonder’s decision to write “Happy Birthday” was more than just a musical endeavor — it was a political and social statement. Through his music, Wonder was able to spotlight a cause that was important to him and make a tangible impact on society. It is a testament to the power of music as a force for change.

As a Black person in America, it is important to remember the impact that Stevie Wonder had on the Civil Rights Movement, not just with his music, but also with his activism, his efforts to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how his contributions continue to inspire us to this day.

Dr. King’s message of equality and civil rights for all people, regardless of color, resonated deeply with many Americans, particularly in the Black community.

March On Washington

Source: Bob Parent / Getty

Despite his tragic assassination, Dr. King’s legacy continues to inspire people around the world who are fighting for peace, justice and equality. His message of nonviolence, unity and love remains as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.

King’s birthday serves as a reminder of his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and his message continues to be an important part of American society and the world.

The next time you hear Stevie Wonder’s amazing version of “Happy Birthday,” remember everything Dr. King stood for. The song will forever be a constant reminder of King’s important contributions to American society and the world. 


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