The Prisoner

The following is from William Walsh’s class presentation:

Herbie Hancock – The Prisoner (1969)

Herbie Hancock - The Prisoner

  • Herbie Hancock is a renowned jazz pianist and composer
  • His 1969 album The Prisoner was recorded and released in the year following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination
    • Dedicated in his memory
  • Tackles issues such as discrimination against African-Americans and general inequality in society


Herbie Hancock - the Prisoner
I Have A Dream

The Prisoner:


  • Duality between oppressed and oppressor
  • Violence vs. peace: smooth music with occasional stabs

He Who Lives in Fear:

Promise of the Sun:

  • “The sun promises life and freedom to all living things, and yet blacks are not yet free” (Herb Wong)

Liner Notes - Herbie Hancock, the Prisoner


  • Hancock uses music to incite emotions in the listener and to portray prejudice and oppression.
  • By drawing attention to these issues, he hopes to memorialize Dr. King and spread his message of equality.

Discussion Questions:

  • How can music communicate a message or an emotion without using words?
  • Do you feel the issues discussed by Hancock on this album are still apparent today?
  • What are some modern-day examples of music that, like The Prisoner, comments on societal issues?


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