The Drum Major Instinct presents dramatic readings by acclaimed actors of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s The Drum Major Instinct—a powerful, cautionary sermon about the impulse in all humans to be first—for diverse audiences, with the goal of generating powerful dialogue about racism, inequality, and social justice, fostering compassion, understanding, and positive action. These readings are accompanied by original and arranged music composed and conducted by Dr. Philip Woodmore, featuring a choir of diverse singers from St. Louis, Missouri and New York City.
On Sunday, February 4, 1968, Dr. King delivered The Drum Major Instinct at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, exactly two months before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. In it, he prophetically spoke of his own imminent death and laid out a challenge to his congregation, and also the world, to harness an inborn human drive—“the desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first”— and use it to promote justice, righteousness, and peace by channeling it into acts of service and love. The “distorted personality,” King argued, fails to harness this” the drum major instinct” for good and instead, "ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up," leading to “the most tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man,” including white supremacy, violence, consumerism, inequality, and unjust wars.
More than fifty years after King’s death, and in light of the violence, bigotry, and sedition recently on display in the United States Capitol, his sermon resonates with new depth and meaning. In the spirit of promoting open, candid, constructive dialogue during this fractious, violent, divided time, we present The Drum Major Instinct with the hope that it will lead to much-needed healing, reflection, and resolve at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.
Co-presented by Theater of War Productions and the Office of the New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Featuring performances by Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Moses Ingram (The Queen’s Gambit), and soloists De-Rance Blaylock, Duane Foster, and John Leggette.
Directed and Facilitated by Bryan Doerries
Music Composed and Conducted by Dr. Philip Woodmore
Co-facilitated by De-Andrea Blaylock Johnson
About the play
The Drum Major Instinct by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On February 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. In it, King speaks to his congregation about the destructive forces of “the drum major instinct,” defined as the desire to be first, to be recognized, and to receive distinction. This instinct, according to King, leads to “the most tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man,” including white supremacy, violence, consumerism, and unjust wars. King challenges his congregants and the world to harness this “drum major instinct” for good, to be first in love, first in righteousness, first in generosity, first in justice, and above all, first in service to others.
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