Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK: If I Can Help Somebody

2011 UPDATE:  This is a post I made six years ago - and although I no longer work at UAB I still remember the choir that sang this marvelous arrangement by the great Ray Liebau.  You can now purchase the piece here on Mr. Liebau's website and listen to it on YouTube - but not by the Ole Miss Concert Singers - but by the Raffles Chorale, conducted by Mr Toh Ban Sheng in 2008 at the World Youth Choral Festival in Singapore.

In my happiest year as an instructor at the University of Mississippi, the choir sang a song arranged by Ray Liebau called "If I Can Help Somebody." The words were from a hymn quoted in one of the last speeches Martin Luther King ever gave.

We honor the great Martin Luther King today. Below is a portion of the speech he gave that night, with the hymn quoted in its context. There is a link to an Ole Miss recording of the arrangement, but it is rather large, so be forwarned.

If I Can Help Somebody (source of the sermon)

The words of Dr. King:


Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.


Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968. MLKEC.

6 comments:

Nick said...

For all that dont know this is possibly the most moving song around for a choir...besides Abide with me, which is my favorite, If I Can Help Somebody is so powerful and has text painting and potential nuance everywhere...on a day of remembrance for a pioneer in Civil Rights you guys should listen to this piece...its awesome...latuh

Clayton said...

Wow. Powerful. Compelling. Music.

delia said...

this song is the one song that i have always wanted to sing before i die...and as my last semester approaches as uab i am having to come to grips that this wich will never ever come true...(are you feeling the guilt yet copeland?)...

Anonymous said...

anyone ever find it odd that the reference to Dr. Copeland is not Dr...its always Cope, Copeland, or some derivative that we conjure up...no slight to anyone who says it but I was sitting here reading and I just noticed that a lot of students say that...

uiyui said...
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Martha said...

I just want to add that Ray Liebau was my piano teacher, and the dearest friend that anyone can ever imagine to me and my family while I worked on my doctorate at Ole Miss in the early 90's. He is the author of this choral arrangement -- and it is so fitting. His life and that of his wife as well -- are the true embodiment of these words. He is everything that a teacher should be: an example, a friend and an inspiration to higher learning, better living. He is retired now and lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas. As always -- he continues to help any and all that exhibit need around him.