By CAROL SOUTH
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — A local effort to preserve and promote Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy continues with today's Remembrance Day event that showcases one of the country's oldest African-American choirs.
The Brazeal Dennard Chorale, a 20-voice ensemble from Detroit, headlines the free event at the State Theatre. Joining the chorale will be members of the Northwestern Michigan College Children's Choir and the Kingsley High School Concert Choir.
The event is sponsored by Building Bridges with Music, the Traverse City Human Rights Commission and the State Theatre.
Music can open hearts and minds, said Jeff Haas, founder of Building Bridges with Music. He's been involved with the annual Remembrance Day gathering multiple times, and knows music and messages engage attendees on a deep level.
"This year's Martin Luther King Remembrance Day event is all about vocal music and providing an opportunity for over 150 local choir students to share the same program with one of the oldest, most-revered African-American chorales in the country," Haas said. "We hope people will enjoy fantastic vocal music, as well as appreciate hearing again the timeless words of Martin Luther King, which are just as relevant today as in his day."
"I have been trying to figure out a way to get the Brazeal Dennard Chorale to TC for years; so glad it finally came together," Haas added.
The opportunity to perform on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an honor for the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, said Scott Talley, a spokesman for the group. The chorale was founded in 1972 and is guided by artistic director Dr. Augustus Hill. The ensemble just won a gold medal in the 2012 National Choral competition, an honor akin to an Olympic medal.
"When you think about Dr. King's holiday, it's his legacy," he said. "Also (the performance) will touch new people and it's very exciting when the chorale can take their show on the road; when a community asks them to come it's a big honor."
The Brazeal Dennard Chorale features singers from all walks of life who represent the community: doctors, teachers, police officers, day laborers. The African-American spirituals they perform honors the chorale's mission to "remember, discover, preserve and share the Negro spiritual." The chorale also works to rediscover and perform the works of African-American composers.
"The music they're performing, it comes from African-Americans — our ancestors — the music they brought from the African continent," Talley said.
Four Traverse City West Senior High theater students will emcee the event and read excerpts from Dr. King's speeches between songs. Haas wrote a script for the volunteer students, who each will read two selections.
"Just being able to do as he did and help influence people, the way he lived his life, it's a real honor to help promote his message," said Liam Thomas, a senior at West Senior High.
For a small school like Kingsley the opportunity is a great honor, said choral director Andy Evans.
"They're excited. It's not often the kids get to do these things," he said. "To be a part of something bigger than yourself, that's important."