The annual musical tribute honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Living the Dream . . . Singing the Dream,” originally scheduled for January, took place in grand style at the Kennedy Center with local choirs joining forces to raise their voices in jubilation.
The Choral Arts Society of Washington, DC, and Washington Performing Arts presented in concert the Choral Arts Chorus, the Men and Women of the Gospel and Children of the Gospel in a program that embraced music, collaboration and the human spirit. The evening of inspirational music also honored 2022 Choral Arts Society Humanitarian recipient LaTosha Brown, a national voting rights activist.
“Living the Dream” focuses on continuing the work of peace and understanding to which King committed his life. These and other characteristics count as key attributes consistently exhibited by the selected honoree.
Brown has been a leading advocate for ensuring equal access to voting rights. She received her award from Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and 2020 Humanitarian Award recipient. Before accepting her award, Brown sang an acapella version of the gospel song, “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”
“I wanted to start with singing a song that my grandmother used to sing,” Brown said, reflecting on past honorees. “I am grateful for those who created a space for me to stand here today. It was something about them standing in the midst of their own humanity that opened up the way for me.”
Each of the three featured choirs performed individually and as a combined vocal group. Conducting the choirs were for Choral Arts Chorus, Scott Tucker, artistic director; Men and Women of the Gospel, Theodore Thorpe III, artistic director; and Children of the Gospel, Michele Fowlin, artistic director.
Songs of faith and inspirational songs performed included “Come Thou Almighty King,” “You’re the Lifter” and “Didn’t It Rain?”
One fun, up-tempo selection, “Onaga” performed by Children of the Gospel, featured guest soloist Greg Smith. With choir members in Afrocentric costumes, the audience felt compelled to move to the beat of the music.
An added bonus for those in attendance would be the premiere of a newly-commissioned piece composed by D.C.’s own Nolan Williams Jr. – a composer, producer, curator and musicologist whose musical “Grace” can now be seen at Ford’s Theatre in Northwest. His newest composition, “We Are the Ones to Heal Our Land,” used as its basis 2 Chronicles 7:14.
The familiar passage reads as follows: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (King James Version)
Williams explained what the passage means to him.
“These words have long embodied for me the profound hope that God will eventually make right the many wrongs that trouble our land,” Williams said in his program notes. “I offer a reimagining of the 2 Chronicles text to provoke and awaken our consciousness and to call us as a community to renewed action. And I do so with verses that explore these four forms of justice disparities: earth, social, environmental and economic.”