‘Shed A Little Light’ (1991) is Taylor’s gentle and stirring tribute to Martin Luther King. In a 2005 interview he said: “To me, King is really one of the central heroes, you know, just in our time, a real exceptional, rare person who contributed the right things at the right time. You know, I think my parents, they led me into an awareness of what was going on. You know, they felt amazingly strongly about the civil-rights struggle, and I guess it stayed with me. It always stayed with me. So, it came out in a song.”
Therefore, his wish was to honour that 20th-century titan:
“Of the people with whom I have shared my time on this planet, I believe King is the most heroic, the most like Christ or the Buddha. Churchill, FDR, Kennedy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa: for me, King eclipses them all … 50 years ago the brightest light in a generation was snuffed out. The great cause of love and compassion, of peace and reconciliation that he led has had many heroic martyrs. Clearly, he knew he was at risk and still he carried on.
He was human and he had human weaknesses and misgivings but when he was called upon, he stood up and shouldered the load. A truly great man, he was equal to the great challenge of our time, the deeply rooted racial injustice that plagues our nation and threatens the noble American experiment. He showed us the way”.
This moving prayer speaks of the Lord’s light, of “sister and brotherhood,” of being “bound together” by the “ties of hope and love” and our “desire to see the world become / A place in which our children / Can grow free and strong “.
The metaphor of being “bound together” echoes a statement by Martin Luther King himself:
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you
The line: “And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest” means that although some of us have died, our passion is still alive
When mentioning “from the well to the hill”, Taylor is interpolating another of his song, “Lo and Behold”, where he speaks about a well on the hill