The motor’s now cranked up and we’re moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality, and we can’t afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny. We must keep moving. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1897 was the last time the DC region experienced an earthquake, and in spite of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Nation’s Capital on Tuesday, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Dedication Celebration kicked off a week-long salute of events, concerts and symposiums honoring the life, the dream and the legacy of Dr. King. There were many concerts and musical performances that took place including “The Message in the Music” Concert of Civil Rights Era Music featuring Patti LaBelle, Eddie Levert, Anthony Hamilton, The Voices of Inspiration and more; the “Women Who Dare to Dream” Luncheon Honoring Women Civil Rights Leaders featuring Lalah Hathaway, Ledisi and India Arie; “The Martin Luther King Jr.: A Monumental Life” tribute at Constitution Hall with performances by Denyce Graves, Tremaine Hawkins, Lalah Hathaway, Marvin Winans, Kenny Lattimore, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Morehouse College Glee Club and more; but it was the “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute at the Kennedy Center” featuring Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, Naturally 7 and Frederic Yonnet that stole the show.
While every concert, tribute and performance brought something special to the Dedication Week, there was an energy at the Kennedy Center performance that was unmatched. By far, this performance stood out from the rest. Perhaps it was the pure simplicity of it all; perhaps it felt like an event that not only emulated Dr. King – being for the people and by the people, but that it would be something that Dr. King would have enjoyed with minimal pomp, circumstance or fanfare; perhaps it was the Southern Church roots of Maggie Ingram, or the narrative read by Frederic Yonnet about Dr. King’s last days – drawing the parallel that Dr. King went out into a driving rain in Memphis to deliver what would be the final speech of his life, as DC braced for Hurricane Irene on the eve of a memorial dedication in Dr. King’s honor. It could have been any of those things or none of them – but what was clear is that every person in that room, no matter their social standing, race, or creed were there for one thing and one thing only – to pay homage to a man who paved the way for freedom, justice and equality. It was such a fitting concert for a man often called “the Drum Major”.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gospel legend Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes have been singing gospel music for over 55 years and at 81 years young, Ms. Maggie Ingram is a gospel legend. Opening their performance with “Everything Will Be Alright (When Jesus Comes)” the highlight was a song written by Maggie Ingram – “Our Love Song” written for Dr. Martin Luther King. Maggie Ingram had the audience clapping in rhythm by their third and final song “Until I Die”. “I’m going to keep on working for Jesus, one day til I die.” “Anybody here know Jesus. If you know the Lord, get up on your feet”, and just like that, the Kennedy Center audience were on their feet. Such a strong, authentic representation of the southern gospel roots born from Dr. King, Maggie Ingram & the Ingramettes delivered a tribute fit for a King.
Segueing from a powerful spirit-filled performance, Frederic Yonnet shared a narrative with the audience regarding the last moments of Dr. King’s life. A somber reminder that Dr. King was always aware that his commitment to the Civil Rights movement came with a price – a price that would cost him his life. Dr. King understood that he was living in the shadow of death and he had spoken many times of his imminent death. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter anymore because I’ve been to the mountain top.” Yonnet shared with the audience one of the most memorable quotes from Dr. King. Yonnet continued, “Four decades ago we would have called for a moment of silence but tonight we have cause to celebrate.” And celebrate they did.
Naturally 7 took to the stage and two things were clear from the start. One, the majority of the audience had never heard of these talented men – people I like to call “new to Naturally 7”; and two, Naturally 7 were about to receive about 700 more fans. They opened with “Jericho”, and then launched into what they do best – it can best be described as a oral natural blend of instrumental sounds, created simply by their vocal chords. To close your eyes, would mean that your ears would deceive you into believing you’re hearing live instruments – when in fact you are hearing a person mimic an instrument in every facet of sound. Naturally 7 continued with “instrumental” solos – showcasing their individual “instrumental talents” before continuing with “Come Together” by the Beatles and “Wall of Sound”. “Yall better stop showing off” yelled one audience member and as Naturally 7 left the stage, there was not only a sense that the audience had seen something their minds had never conceived before, but that these 7 men are living examples of Dr. King, through their lyrics – “I built this wall all around me; I built this wall to surround me; I built this wall from the ground see; Sticks and stones cant break these tones.”
The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. I like that old Negro spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” In its simple, yet colorful, depiction of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that: Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, And the walls come tumbling down.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Urban jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet has toured with Prince, performed with Stevie Wonder, David Foster, John Legend and more; but on this evening, Frederic Yonnet was the headliner for one of the most powerful and unforgettable performances during the King Memorial Dedication weekend. As each performer took to the stage, it was as if the energy level in the Kennedy Center continued to rise higher and higher. For a brief moment in time, the impending threat of a hurricane and the fact that the Dedication Ceremony on Saturday had already been postponed was briefly forgotten as many gathered in one space and place to honor Dr. King. Yonnet’s performance included The Key is Me and Voice; and Yonnet’s high energy performance was a perfect compliment to Ms. Maggie Ingram & Naturally 7. “This is a celebration, and it’s an international celebration,” Yonnet shared. “Dr. King was not about Black or White; American or Asian. He was about humanity and we all coming together in such a beautiful way.”
I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us not despair. Let us realize that as we struggle for justice and freedom, we have cosmic companionship. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
To see the full video performance – click here.
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