Martin Luther King Jr.’s History With the Grammy Awards

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate on Monday (Jan. 18), received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964 and was Time’s man of the year for 1963. It’s not as widely known, but he was also a (posthumous) Grammy winner for best spoken word recording.

King received three Grammy nominations in that category: one in his lifetime and two after his assassination on April 4, 1968.

We Shall Overcome (The March on Washington…August 28, 1963), containing his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech, received a 1963 nod in that category, then called best documentary, spoken word or drama recording (other than comedy). It lost to an original-cast recording of the Broadway play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

An album titled I Have a Dream received a 1968 nod. Surprisingly, even though the voting was conducted less than a year after King’s death, it lost to an album, Lonesome Cities, by poet Rod McKuen.

King won in the category on his third try for a 1970 album, Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam. The award was announced on March 16, 1971, nearly three years after his death.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is of course one of the most famous and consequential speeches ever delivered. It is considered a landmark among spoken word recordings. It was among the initial group of recordings inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2002. It was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.