Gospel Concert in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King

Ambassador Haney Remarks

San José, January 28, 2016

-as prepared-

Allison Wanamaker, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano

Members of the Board of Directors, Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano

Distinguished guests and music lovers

Good evening and thank you so much for joining me for concert of Gospel Music in celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is truly an honor for me to be here with all of you and especially with these fine musicians – Masterkey, whose music I’ve already had the opportunity to hear a couple of times, both in Limon and here in San Jose, and our guests from Louisiana State University who are here as part of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano Promising Artists of the 21st Century music series.

Gospel music has played a special part in my life because both my mother and my brother sang in gospel choirs as I was growing up. Also, as many of you may know, this music has a special place in the history of the United States and its music. It began as part of the religious celebrations of African slaves in the Southern United States, where it was used to teach the gospel to a people who couldn’t read and write. The music’s references to a better life in the Promised Land was a crucial survival tool that gave people hope as they struggled to survive against an oppressive system.

Following the Civil War, African-Americans brought both their religion and their music north, where gospel music’s sometimes joyous and sometimes plaintive sounds continued to give them hope in their daily efforts to build a life in a new and unfamiliar place.

In the cities, gospel music moved from the church to other genres and its influence can be found in everything from country to blues to rock and roll, and hip hop. Its universal popularity comes from the fact that it reflects the everyday challenges, hopes, fears, and accomplishments that we all share.

Gospel music’s ability to speak musically to the people’s experiences, combined with a plea for divine intervention on behalf of the oppressed, explains why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was so drawn to it and why it played such an important role in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Whether providing the roots for the folksy “We Shall Overcome,” now the anthem of those fighting for recognition around the world, or majestic solos like those sung by the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, gospel music provided the sound track for the movement and an inspiration for Dr. King and others.

Today, in United States and in Costa Rica, we share similar difficulties and similar dreams. Costa Rica, like the United States, is a multi-cultural country, where the different peoples, experiences and ideas can provide the inspiration to resolve difficult problems and meet the challenges of a changing world.

And, as President Barack Obama said to the American people in his State of the Union address earlier this month, we must “be inspired by voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

These values that Dr. King and President Obama spoke about and believe in are values that we share with you, the citizens of Costa Rica. I am pleased and proud to be here with you, working together for a bright and shining future for everyone.

Thank you, and now, let’s enjoy some great music!