Grammy-winning Ellington School alum Ben Williams uses art as form of protest
The 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike was the last protest the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. orchestrated before his assassination April 4 of that year, and their slogan was, “I AM A MAN.” More than 50 years later, Grammy-winning bassist, singer and songwriter Ben Williams has repurposed that slogan as an album title and as a mission to address the plight African Americans face.
“I wanted to address the social climate, what’s going on in the world and how it affects the Black community, but I wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t a traditional protest feeling,” Williams told the AFRO in an exclusive interview.
Williams said he was first inspired by the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike after watching the Ava Duvernay film 13th, which features a photo montage at the end that includes the iconic image of men holding up the “I AM A MAN,” sign.
“I just dove into that idea of “I AM A MAN,” what it meant to those men, those sanitation workers and how I could apply that in a modern context,” Williams said.
From the idea grew the album.
“Essentially what this album is doing is digging into the psyche, the soul and the spirit of the African-American male, and all its complexities.”
With songs such as “If You Hear Me” and “We Shall Overcome,” the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Juilliard graduate is using art as a means of continued protest and awakening audiences to the challenging realities for Black men.
The D.C. native explained that they have the difficult experience of constantly discussing and being faced with societal and internal intricacies, while at the same time being unable to express the complexities of being of a male of African descent in America….. (continued)