Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was first celebrated as a national holiday in the United States on January 20, 1986. To commemorate this, a group of popular urban music acts of that time collaborated on a single entitled “King Holiday.” The song was written by Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Phillip Jones and Bill Adler. Appearing with Blow and Melle Mel on the record are Run-D.M.C., Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, James “JT” Taylor (of Kool & the Gang), Teena Marie, Whodini, Fat Boys, El DeBarge, Stephanie Mills, New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw and Menudo.
A bill to turn King’s birthday into a national holiday was first introduced to the House of Representatives in 1979, but it didn’t receive enough votes to pass. The following year Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday,” a song calling for the holiday, and organized a rally in Washington DC for the cause. Soon, a petition was circulated calling for the same. Six million signatures were collected. Though President Reagan was initially against the holiday, he later signed the bill authorizing it.
Senator John McCain of Arizona was against the holiday, as was that state’s governor, Evan Meacham. New Hampshire didn’t acknowledge Martin Luther King Day until 1999. South Carolina made King Day a paid holiday for state employees in 2000. Prior to then, employees could choose between observing King’s birthday or one of three Confederate holidays.
Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.