Back in 2003, singer/songwriter/musician and activist John Francis O’Mara was inspired to write a song, “Kill the Dreamer”, that only grows in intensity and meaning every day. Like the dream that can never be killed, this is a song that will ring true until the dream of The Beloved Community is realized.
Today, RLC got to speak with John Francis and he’s graciously shared the song with us and our readers.
The Story Behind The Song
Every song is more than just a song. There’s always a story, and it’s more than the story that the song tells. In this case, “Kill the Dreamer” is built loosely around the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers’ attempts to kill him and then their selling him into slavery. See what happens to his dreams now, they taunt. And so, back in 2003, fresh off of a tour throughout the US, John Francis wrote this song, admittedly as somewhat of a divine download. As he said, “the song existed and needed a vessel, and I was listening….” and he allowed the song and its powerful message to come through him. The sense of Dr. King’s unfinished business and the thoughts of confronting white supremacy and its threat provided impetus to release and promote the song.
Fire in the Bones
“The dream is still unrealized, the movement continues. It may manifest in different ways. Black Lives Matter is one. A continuation of the hopes and demands of the Civil Rights Movement,” says John Francis. “People with a fire in their bones to sing, speak, protest, or lament, let that burn and give voice. It’s incapable of being quenched.”
One thing John Francis wants to point out is that those who promote and see the message and words of Dr. King as that of a “super placid Civil Rights Santa Claus with a feel-good message have got it all wrong.” Dr. King, as well as his wife Coretta Scott King, “was a revolutionary, both of them complex individuals, and we need to give voice to the facts of their lives and mission”.
John Francis brought to mind Dr. King’s Riverside speech when he spoke out against America’s three-pronged sins of militarism, capitalism, and racism, and created a rift, even within the Christian community, and it was after this calling out of the ugly truths that he was killed. The Dreamer, but not The Dream.
In this song, there is a reference to the battle of Wounded Knee (December 1890), when the Lakota people were massacred and John Francis ties that battle to the original sin of colonialism, essentially a form of white supremacy. The same mentality that perpetuated African American slavery and the killing of Native Americans, and that is the same mentality that has led to mass imprisonments of African Americans, and the systemic genocide of indigenous peoples and their treasured cultures.
The original sin has still not been repaired and in the song, Montgomery is mentioned, the Mason Dixon line, the Shenandoah Pines, and John Brown. If we don’t remember, we’ll never move forward. History has a way of lighting a fire in our seats if we’ll put our ears to the ground. History calls out to us in the form of a song, not only a song of protest, but a song of lamentations, a song of love, and a song of challenge. He asks us to raise our fists and to get free. Part of his vision for ministry is that of reminding us of this challenge. It is undoubtedly a divine directive.
John Francis says his current thoughts have been influenced by the author Isabel Wilkerson and her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and also by the author Michelle Alexander and her book, The New Jim Crow. He listens to Dr. King’s sermons regularly and recalls that he was listening to Dr. King’s “A Knock at Midnight” when the song “Kill the Dreamer” came through.
He has a new album coming out later this year titled “Forbidden Hymns”. It was recorded in Nashville and will feature a variety of top musicians who have worked with the likes of Johnny Cash, Roseanne Cash, Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams, and Wilco. To learn more about this amazingly talented and anointed artist, visit his website at John Francis O’Mara (johnfrancisomara.com).
About John Francis O’Mara
Americana artist John Francis O’Mara is poised to release his third LP entitled ‘Forbidden Hymns’. Produced by Grammy Award winning producer Ken Coomer (drummer for Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), the forthcoming album also features Kenny Vaughan (Lucinda Williams, Emmy Lou Harris, Marty Stuart), and Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Ray Lamontagne, Dwight Yoakam).
JF is the recipient of two national songwriting awards from ASCAP. He has performed upon invitation for the United Nations summit toward eradicating poverty. He has given concerts in stadiums and in subway stations, in cathedrals and pubs, at protests and in prisons. Performing in some of the most prestigious listening rooms in the US and Europe, JF has played an average of 250 dates per year for over 10 years. JF played along with George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Roseanne Cash, etc for the inaugural Johnny Cash Music Festival at the University of Arkansas Stadium. He also was one of the headliners for the Johnny Cash Flower Picking Festival in Starkville, Mississippi.
JF’s first national full-length album, ‘The Better Angels’(Dualtone), was produced by Grammy Award recipient, John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter) in the fabled Cash Cabin Studio, where Johnny Cash recorded much of the ‘American Recordings.’ The single ‘Johnny Cash on the Radio’ climbed to number 19 on the Americana Music Charts in the US. The Swiss single, ‘Miracle’, from his forthcoming album, was released exclusively exclusively in Switzerland, where it received widespread national radio attention and was featured as ‘Single of the Week’ on Radiozürisee.
JF tours extensively in the US and Europe, especially in Ireland (his beloved ancestral homeland), and in Switzerland where his songs have gained widespread radio play. JF has shared stages with Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Mavis Staples, Odetta, Suzanne Vega, Sturgill Simpson, Tommy Emmanuel, Ray Lamontagne, Amos Lee, Rosanne Cash, Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Paxton, Rachael Yamagata, Mary Gauthier, James McMurtry, Rufus Wainwright, Justin Townes Earle, Steve Earle, Indigo Girls, M.Ward, Glen Hansard, Old 97’s, Over the Rhine, Sinead O’Connor, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Garth Hudson (The Band).
John Francis O’Mara is also a theological scholar and an Episcopalian Priest. He received his Master’s of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2017, and a Master’s of Sacred Theology from The General Seminary in New York City, 2018. He was ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests in December of 2018 and he is currently serving Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, www.gracechurchmadison.org. In his priestly vocation, he is known as John Francis Maher.