Music Is Motivation For Olympian John Carlos

For Tell Me More's "In Your Ear" series, 1968 Olympic medalist John Carlos tells listeners about the music that's inspired him over the years. His favorites include Billie Holiday and Curtis Mayfield. This segment initially aired July 30, 2012 on Tell Me More.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Just a minute ago we heard Dave Zirin share a story about his friend and hero, Olympic medalist John Carlos. When John Carlos and his teammate, Tommie Smith stepped onto the metal stand to receive their medals in 1968, they bowed their heads and raised their black gloved fists when the "Star-Spangled Banner" was played. They were hoping to call attention to the ongoing civil rights struggles in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. We spoke with John Carlos a while back about that period of his life and he talks about it in his memoir, "The John Carlos Story." Now, for our occasional series, In Your Ear, we also hear about some of your music that continues to inspire him.

JOHN CARLOS: The first song that I like to say is by Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday came up with a song called, "Strange Fruit." I can tell you about the song but I want you to listen to the song yourself because it represents the feeling of many blacks throughout the South.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE FRUIT")

CARLOS: Then from there, time went by. Nina Simone sang a song with passion and emotion relative to the plight of black people as well. And that was called, "Mississippi Goddam."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSISSIPPI GODDAM")

CARLOS: Why did that song mean so much to me? Because through my travels to the South with so many individuals that were saying, Why us? Why now? When will it end?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE DARKER THAN BLUE")

CARLOS: And then to climax everything, was a young man that I think was ingenious in all of his music, was Curtis Mayfield.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE DARKER THAN BLUE")

MARTIN: That was "We the People Who are Darker Than Blue" by Curtis Mayfield. Just one of the songs Olympic medalist John Carlos told us was playing in his ear. To hear our previous conversation with John Carlos, go to our website at NPR.ORG/TELLMEMORE

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