Bayard Rustin was one of the most important figures in America’s civil rights movement – activism alongside A. Philip Randolph fighting discriminatory practices surrounding hiring for World War II, an organizer with Randolph of the first March on Washington in 1941, a key planner of the Freedom Rides, and an advocate of nonviolence whose ideas and strategies had a major impact on Martin Luther King Jr. Through the 1970s and 80s Rustin server on high-profile humanitarian missions, including aid for Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. Rustin was also openly gay, and became active in the gay rights movement in the 1980s. At the time of his death in 1987, Rustin was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti.
What is less well-known about Rustin is that he was a gifted actor and musician. He put his talents to the service of civil rights, releasing two very early LPs for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The repertoire was an unusual mix: spirituals and traditional songs of African-Americans released with late Renaissance lute songs and an early Baroque aria, among the earliest “historically informed” recordings made in the United States.
“Bayard Rustin – The Singer” is being released in advance of a forthcoming Rustin biopic coming to Netflix created by Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground production company.