I did not watch the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony.
I was disgruntled by the Academy diss, and certain media punditry about the film “Selma,” which I wrote about in “Black and female eye on the Oscars .”
No matter. Music carries a powerful message and “Glory” is simply glorious.
“Glory” is a song performed by American singer-songwriter John Legend and rapper Common. It was written by Legend, Common and Che Smith. The song was released on December 11, 2014 by Columbia Records as the theme song from the 2014 film Selma, which portrays the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. Common also co-starred as 1960s Civil Rights Movement leader James Bevel in Selma.
Commercially, the song peaked at No. 92 on the US Billboard Hot 100. A music video for the song was directed by Paramount Pictures and was released on January 12, 2015. The song won the award for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards (2015) and the 72nd Golden Globe Awards (2015).
[Produced by John Legend]
[Chorus: John Legend]
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
[Verse 1: Common]
Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon
Formed against, yes glory is destined
Every day women and men become legends
Sins that go against our skin become blessings
The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtapositionin’ us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
True and livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down”, and we stand up
Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up
King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up
[Bridge: John Legend]
Now the war is not over, victory isn’t won
But we’ll fight on to the finish, and when it’s all done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory, ohhh
We’ll cry glory, oh glory, ohhh
[Verse 2: Common]
Selma is now for every man, woman and child
Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd
They marched with the torch, we gon’ run with it now
Never look back, we done gone hundreds of miles
From dark roads he rose, to become a hero
Facin’ the league of justice, his power was the people
Enemy is lethal, a king became regal
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
Welcome to the story we call victory
Comin’ of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory
[Outro: John Legend]
When the war is done, when it’s all said and done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory
The Oscar performance is notable not only for the song and performance, but for the staging and choreography, and then, after the song took the Oscar, for the acceptance speeches.
The cut-away shots of audience members with tears streaming down cheeks and watery eyes as the standing ovation took place said a lot about the power of this song, which will be remembered long after the controversy is but a memory.
From The Griot
The award was given to composers Legend and Common under their legal names, John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn.
“Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times they live,” Legend said, referring to the singer and activist. “Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.” Legend cited voting rights and the incarceration rates of black men.
Backstage, he said there was still a lot to be done. “When you think about equality and freedom and justice, we’ve got more work to do,” he said. Common, who also had an acting role in the film based on the historic 1965 march, said it was their duty to speak out, given the stage and setting of the Oscars. “How could you not say anything, especially representing a film like ‘Selma’,” he said.
Tears covered the face of actor David Oyelowo who starred in “Selma” as Martin Luther King Jr. and stood with the rest of the crowd for a standing ovation after the pair’s performance.
Common credited Oyelowo with ensuring “Selma” was made by getting director Ava DuVernay on board and involving Oprah. The singer said he had called up Legend while he was on tour in London inquiring about collaborating.
“That word really inspired me,” Legend said of “Glory”. “The song should sound triumphant.”
The mention of Nina Simone brought tears to my eyes. Here’s hoping that the younger generation will be curious and explore her music. I was shocked to find out my students had never heard of her, when I play some of her songs in women’s studies.
In his acceptance speech, Common linked the civil rights movement to similar movements in France and Hong Kong. “The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South Side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to those in Hong Kong, protesting for democracy,” he said. “This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated with love for all human beings.”
John Legend got more explicitly political in his speech. “We say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now,” he said. “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today then were under slavery in 1850.”
“We are with you, we see you, we love you and march on,” he concluded.