Hopefully we all took a few moments yesterday to contemplate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Certainly the past year, if nothing else, has underscored the fact that our racial divisions and wounds have not healed in the country. I don’t remember a time since the 1970s when there seem to be as much anger on all sides. It’s a regretful context to this year’s celebrations.
The Tennessee Theatre was a little less packed this year than last which was not surprising given the 25 degree temperatures outside. I admire the people who marched in the parade with temperatures below 20. Still, the crowd was a good one and it’s one of the most racially diverse of any event I attend through the year, which I appreciate.
After introductions, jazz guitarist Roland Gresham played to a soundtrack. Likened to Wes Montgomery and George Benson, he was very good. A small combo took the stage and ushered in Sche Productions and a play that carried the program through to intermission.
Interestingly, the play took aim at the “Black Lives Matter” theme of the last year with one of the characters in the play insisting that “All Lives Matter,” which, of course became a popular response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The play focused on bringing the generations together to work for change, with the recurring theme a quote from Dr. King, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
The highlights in the play were the musical and dance interludes. I hope I got the names correct. Nathaniel Ware nearly brought me to tears with his great rendition of the Curtis Mayfield/Impressions song, “People Get Ready.” Ebony Petty rocked a daring performance of “Respect.” Sherineta Morrison wrote, directed and acted in the drama as well as performing a chilling version of Thomas Dorsey’s “Take My Hand Precious Lord.” I could have listened to her sing for the entire program. Jordan Hill tapped danced to the delight of the crowd.
Just prior to intermission Liza Zenni, Executive Director of the Arts and Culture Alliance won the 2016 Arts Award given out by the group. After intermission a program was presented jointly by the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Celebration Choir with a blend of classical and spiritual compositions. I was told when I entered that the Knoxville Symphony would not allow photographs after intermission, which I regret because it would have been nice to be able to share that portion of the program with you.
In any case, this was my second year attending the event and I’ll likely plan to return. I hope your observances were meaningful and that you’ll consider joining this celebration next year.