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Credit: Atsushi Nishijima

For Selma‘s music supervisor Morgan Rhodes, doing research is a “dream.” To compile music for Ava DuVernay’s film about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activism, Rhodes searched the likes of record stores and online auctions, met collectors on the Internet, and bought records, leading to a growing collection of vinyl from the ’60s.

“[DuVernay] wanted underground hits, hits that flew under the radar, songs that weren’t necessarily chart toppers. So that for me involved a lot of research—months of research,” Rhodes, who is also a radio DJ, told EW. “As I was researching, I was also discovering things I hadn’t heard before, and that was amazing.”

DuVernay, with whom Rhodes worked on the indie Middle of Nowhere, is not telling a necessarily familiar story about King and the marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so it fits that the music isn’t particularly well known either. “There are some things in the film that you may not have heard before, you may not have known, andI thought, if you’re going to tell this story, then you don’t want to have songs that you do already know just to undergird moments that you may not know,” Rhodes explained. “I wanted the power to be on the movement, and you not to be thinking, ‘Oh, I remember that song.'”

With the soundtrack for the film now available, Rhodes made EW a playlist of music she encountered in her process. Rhodes said she listened to a “few thousand” songs in the process. Three songs on the playlist are in the film but not on the soundtrack; for example, the playlist includes “Time Brings About a Change” by The Soul Stirrers, which scores a moment between King and John Lewis. “‘Time Brings About a Change,’ that song in particular, was important because of the message,” Rhodes explained. “There was messaging in the song, but it didn’t overpower the message of what was happening on screen.”

Carmen McCrae — “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”

“‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ is a well-known gospel hymn inspired by a scripture that is referenced in Selma. Over the years I’ve heard it sung in churches and covered on albums by contemporary R&B artists, but until I began working on Selma, I’d never heard it presented as a jazz vocal. I heard it on Birds of a Feather, an album full of songs about birds. It is, in a word, gorgeous.”

Son House — “Grinnin’ in Your Face”

“This very short song (a little over two minutes) was my introduction to Son House, a trailblazing Delta bluesman singing here about opposition and adversity. A cappella vocals are complemented by the perfect echo of his hand clapping.”

Staples Singers — “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)”

“I was gripped by the first few words—Pops Staples speaking/singing his thoughts on the state of the world and injustice. The lyrics grow from there. One of a group of many great songs from the Staple Singers album Freedom Highway, whose title track was written with the march to Selma in mind.”

Toots & The Maytals — “We Shall Overcome”‘

“‘We Shall Overcome’ is without question the song most often associated with 1960s freedom marches. Immortalized in actual audio recordings from the Selma march, it is an anthem that has endured and traveled across the globe to become a part of the soundtrack of civil rights. I was excited to discover Toots & The Maytals’ uptempo reggae version which I think is a such a beautifully nuanced variation of the song’s more traditional arrangement.”

The Orlons — “Don’t You Want My Lovin'”

“This is one of my favorite discoveries from one of the 60s premiere girl groups. Though not as well known as their chart-topping hit, ‘The Wah Watusi,’ the tune has a classic Philly soul sound that is still dance-floor ready, even 50+ years after its debut.”

Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin — “Sanctus” from Missa Luba

“After listening to snippets of the album online, I decided I had to own it on vinyl. I was fortunate to find a record collector who had a pristine original copy. ‘Sanctus’ was the song I kept playing over and over. I loved the layered harmonies, dramatic tempo changes, and the children’s’ voices interpreting a Latin Hymn in a style native to the Republic of Congo.”

John Coltrane Quartet — “Alabama”

“A haunting saxophone elegy for four little girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Gorgeous and somber, it felt like an entire film score built into one song.”

John Fahey — “March! For Martin Luther King”

“A search for instrumental folk music lead me to this song. The snare drum coupled with John’s bluesy guitar solo really evoked powerful images of soldiers marching into battle.”

The Soul Stirrers — “Time Brings About A Change”

“I fell in love with gospel quartet style music and groups like the Swan Silvertones, Pilgrim Jubilees, The Sensational Nightingales, Pilgrim Travelers, and The Soul Stirrers while I was researching. I thought the blend of gospel and doo-wop was especially cool.”

The Isley Bros/Jimi Hendrix — “Have You Ever Been Disappointed”

“Soulful introspection from a dynamic duo collaborating early in Jimi’s career. I found this on the compilation West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology. It was absolutely love at first listen!”

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