MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fifty years ago today at the Lorraine Motel, just minutes before those fatal shots, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior saw saxophonist Ben Branch in the parking lot and asked him to play his favorite song at a rally.
He said, “I want you to play ‘Precious Lord’ for me’ and shouted ‘play it real pretty.'”
As the entire nation reflects on the anniversary of his assassination, another local saxophonist named Kirk Whalum played that same song for WREG’s Alex Coleman and put into his own words and music what Dr. King meant to him.
In his own words
“My name is Kirk Whalum. I play the saxophone.”
“I was able to reconnect with Ben Branch whom I never met, but I was aware of him as I started playing saxophone at 12 with my father who was a pastor, Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum.
“I also reconnected in that moment ‘Precious Lord’ – the song that Ben always played for Martin. What it must have been like for all of the forces that were working against Martin in that moment where he was the cheerleader for good, but man, the forces, racism and prejudice and segregation looming large.”
“So, I was nine years old in 1968 and I remember it like it was yesterday. I had no idea how to process it and all of the authority figures were going nuts. Everybody was crying and just distraught, so I knew something big had happened. Little did I know It was a global catastrophe. Not just a good man killed, a martyr, but something that had spiritual implications.”
“Here we are looking forward to another 50 years of challenge and we have to come together because we are better together. At the end of the day what God intended is for us to be together.”
“We as a people will get to the mountaintop and I believe that Martin, at the time of his death, was talking about the beloved community and the beloved community is more than just minorities -it`s everybody. The people of God and the only race there really is. We will get to that mountaintop.”
“Precious Lord take my hand, lead me on, let me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I`m worn through the night, through the storm. … All of these lyrics come fresh to me now as I play the melody.”