People Get Ready

The Impressions

“People Get Ready” is a music album released in 1965 by The Impressions, performed by Curtis Mayfield. It’s glaring bold themes are linked to the struggles of “freedom” and “slavery” while incorporating faith in God.

In the decades since the 1960s this song has evolved, and has been performed, covered and reinterpreted by many different talented artists, within different genres of music. It is a song that initially influenced the Rhythm and Blues music more than other genres. 

The famous Human Rights Activist, Martin  Luther King Jr. named the song the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin  Luther King Jr. often used the song to get his people marching, or to calm them down. 

Many artists have covered this powerful thought provoking song, including South African vocal group Lady Smith Black Mambozo, Bob Marley, Rod Stewart. The Australian group Human Nature had a minor hit in Australia with their version. Other notable artists include: U2, Phill Collins, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys and Lyfe Jennings, The Manhattans and numerous others. Some of the most respected, internationally renown and my some of my favourite musicians who are both young, older and of different races. 

“People Get Ready" uses train imagery, similarly to “Wade in the Water” “The Gospel Train", and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.  The imagery comes from the The Underground Railroad which was a network of secret routes and safe houses that was established in the United States during the 19th century, and used by African American slaves to escape into free states. The Underground Railroad was not a real train but an escape route North to break free from the American slave system. Harriet Tubman ( American abolitionist) went back time and again to the South to enlighten people and show them the route of the "railroad".

Images and art of trains have been consistently linked to liberation.

I think this profound song echoes resistance, hope, movement and freedom from all sorts of oppression through the eras; which can be conceptualised in all facets of life.

It is a song for everyone. It can be symbolic to individuals to be free from different types of oppression (racial, class, gender, sexuality, religious persecution, age, domination, privilege etc.) 

“Slavery“  is a snake with a multitude of heads of oppression. It has evolved in modern times but the strong themes of oppression are always present. Nowadays oppression comes in the form of sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour or debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced child labour, unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, mental abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, etc.

Therefore, this song can be an anthem to all souls (all races, all genders, all ages...) In some way or other we have been through many different forms of oppression, crises, challenges, abuse, pain, slavery, chains.... In a way it linked to most issues we even have now as a society as it can be interpreted to any problem, issue or theme. By using our trust and faith in God.  Where we need to overcome obstacles and we shall overcome. This song is inspirational and motivates. 

If you haven’t heard this profound song, take a moment to and do so! See which version, form or artist you like best. Listen to the creativity, talent your interpretation. It will be worth your time. 

Harriet Tubman
“People, get ready
There's a train a-coming
You don't need no ticket
You just get on board...”
- Lyric from People Get Ready, The Impressions
South Africa