The Washington Performing Arts and the Choral Arts Society recently honored LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, with its Humanitarian Award at its annual "Living the Dream...Singing the Dream" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tribute program at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Over the years, the organizations have jointly bestowed the award on those who have exemplified Dr. King's work in their own like the late Congressman John Lewis, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and South African political leader Nelson Mandela, among others.
Last year's Humanitarian Award honoree, Sherrilyn Ifill (President and Director-Counsel Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), presented LaTosha Brown with her award. Draped in an elegant taupe colored gown, Brown accepted the accolade by singing a bluesy acapella rendition of the spiritual "I Know I Been Changed" that had the whole audience singing and swaying along. She went on to talk of her admiration for Dr. King and the need for all people to work together for voting rights.
The presentation, originally scheduled to take place in January, was postponed because of a rise in the Omicron variant in the nation's capital. Instead, the ninety-minute program took place in April and coincided with the 54th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination.
Norman O. Scribner, who founded Choral Arts, first honored Dr. King with a concert in 1969, a year after the riots that broke out in the wake of his killing. This year's production was hosted by NBC4 news anchor, Shawn Yancy. Conductors Michele Fowlin and Theodore Thorpe III of Washington Performing Arts, and Scott Tucker of Choral Arts, took turns conducting their joint mass choir.
The inspiring songs ranged from traditional works such as "I Opened My Mouth to the Lord" to contemporary ones such as Ricky Dillard's "You're the Lifter" and Rev. Timothy Wright's "Come Thou Almighty King." On "Didn't It Rain?" Greg Smith led the Children of the Gospel Choir in a festive Nigerian song, "Onaga." Later, Theodore Thorpe III instructed the enthusiastic crowd to snap its collective fingers on cue to create the sound of falling rain.
Composer Nolan Williams Jr. premiered and played piano on a brilliantly majestic new piece "We Are the Ones to Heal Our Land" that was commissioned by the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Washington Performing Arts. The evening closed with gospel music legend, Ralph Herndon (nicknamed The Maestro), singing with zest and playing piano with gusto on his signature tune, "Still Have Joy," which garnered a thunderous ovation and provided much joy.