“Let Freedom Ring,” the annual music concert honoring the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is back with a free performance on Monday, Jan. 16, at the Kennedy Center and D.C.’s own Nolan Williams Jr. is once again the music director. The evening will feature Tony and Grammy winner Leslie Odom Jr., The Let Freedom Ring Choir, soloist Roy Patton Jr., and spoken word artists from Georgetown University. Accompanying performers will be the Let Freedom Ring Band, which includes five members of the Georgetown University Jazz Ensemble.

Williams has been the music director for “Let Freedom Ring” since 2003. As music producer, he has been commissioned to compose and direct a new music piece for each “Let Freedom Ring” concert. This year’s composition had Williams wanting to hear a younger perspective, particularly from students.

“I chose a March 1965 speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. in Mobile, Alabama called ‘Our God is Marching On,’” Williams said about his motivation for his new composition. “It’s one of his lesser-known speeches, but we used that speech as inspiration.”

Along with the speech, Williams asked three Georgetown students to share opinions about what is happening in our world. The poetry the students created was adapted into spoken word and incorporated into Williams’ new composition titled “We’re Marching On.” The Georgetown students will perform this production at this year’s concert.

Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda, will receive Georgetown University’s 21st annual John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award. The university gives the award to a local individual who exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Courtesy of Ayuda)

During the concert, Georgetown University will present the 21st annual John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda. Since 1973, the nonprofit Ayuda has served more than 150,000 low-income immigrants throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Georgetown University gives this award to a local individual who exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I am humbled to be selected as the 2023 Legacy of a Dream recipient. My mission has always been to make a lasting impact on the lives of others,” Fitzgerald said upon learning of the recognition, for her agency’s work with immigrants. “I can think of no greater honor than being recognized alongside past recipients – fierce advocates and change-makers in our DMV community.”

Celebrated actor and singer Odom joins the ranks of the likes of  Chaka Khan, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Vanessa Williams, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, who have previously performed for “Let Freedom Ring,” which is returning after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. 

In addition to his role as music director, as a composer and producer Williams has developed several productions outside of “Let Freedom Ring” that have garnered global recognition. Under the umbrella of NEWorks Productions, his creative development company, Williams produced an award-winning documentary, “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth,” advocating for D.C. statehood in 2022.

Last year also saw the world premiere of “Grace, the Musical,” Williams’ production about a Black family’s attempt to save their historic Philadelphia restaurant. More than 20,000 people saw the musical through 58 performances at Ford’s Theatre. Williams was the composer, lyricist and co-author of the book with writing partner Nikkole Salter. The show received rave reviews and has been nominated for twelve Broadway World-Washington, D.C. Regional Awards, including Best Musical and Best New Musical. Winners will be announced later this month, and Williams said there is more ahead for “Grace.”

“We had a great run. Now we’re in another development phase with ‘Grace.’ There are things my creative partner Nikkole Salter and I are exploring,” Williams said. “We want to deepen the story and the impact of ‘Grace.’”

“Let Freedom Ring” is a production of the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage and Georgetown University. Tickets are free but will not be distributed until 90 minutes before the program begins at the Kennedy Center. For more information, go to Kennedy-Center.org.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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  1. There was a Newspaper Company in South West DC back in the late 60ies. I forget the name of it buy it was a black newspaper and I use to deliver it. I think I may have be 11-12 years old. It’s just a nice memory I have.

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