DENYCE GRAVES, SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK,
CHICAGO CHILDREN’S CHOIR TO HONOR MARIAN ANDERSON
Lincoln Bicentennial Event Marks 70th Anniversary of Civil Rights Landmark
WASHINGTON – When African American contralto Marian Anderson stirred the racially integrated crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial with her rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee in 1939, she set the stage for the modern civil rights era.
Seventy years later, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission will pay tribute to this civil rights pioneer on the same day – Easter Sunday – in the same place with a concert featuring world-renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, the women’s a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and the U.S. Marine Band.
The concert begins at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 12, at the Lincoln Memorial Plaza.
Graves has won accolades for her performances in opera houses across North and South America, Europe and Asia. She has performed for presidents and popes, dignitaries at the U.N. Summit on the Environment, at the National Prayer Service following the 9/11 tragedies, and at concerts benefiting U.S. military personnel. She has appeared with the leading symphony orchestras and conductors throughout the world. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1995-96 season in the title role of Carmen.
Graves will be joined by the internationally renowned a capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. Sweet Honey’s collective voice, occasionally accompanied by hand percussion instruments, produces a sound filled with soulful harmonies and intricate rhythms. Recently nominated for a Grammy award in 2008, Sweet Honey In The Rock has sung in communities across the United States and around the world raising their voices in hope, love, justice, peace, and resistance.
Founded in 1956 during the Civil Rights movement, the Chicago Children’s Choir is a multiracial, multicultural choral music education organization, shaping the future by making a difference in the lives of children and youth through musical excellence. The late Rev. Christopher Moore, the Choir’s founder, dreamed that young people from diverse backgrounds could better understand each other, as well as learn about themselves, by learning to make beautiful music together. Today, the Choir serves 2,800 children, ages 8-18 through choirs in 45 schools, after-school programs in eight Chicago neighborhoods and the internationally acclaimed Concert Choir. Under Artistic Director Josephine Lee, the Choir has undertaken many highly successful national and international tours, received a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award for the 2008 documentary Songs on the Road to Freedom, and has been featured in nationally broadcast television and radio performances, most recently on NBC’s Today show and the 2007 PBS series From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall.
The United States Marine Band, known as “the President’s own,” was established by Congress on July 11, 1798, and is America’s oldest professional musical organization. Twenty-seven Directors have led the Marine Band throughout history, the most famous of whom was 17th Director John Philip Sousa. The current Director is Colonel Michael J. Colburn. Many Marine Band musicians serve for 20 years or more and most hold advanced degrees from the world’s top music schools.
“Abraham Lincoln drew his inspiration from the bedrock principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence – the idea that all people are created equal – and the Constitution’s vision of a ‘more perfect union,’” said Eileen Mackevich, ALBC executive director. “Our country has made progress since Lincoln’s time, since Marian Anderson’s time. The Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and its Foundation are honored that such talented and acclaimed artists will join us to pay tribute to the memories of Lincoln, Anderson, King, and all the civil rights leaders who set the precedents that made it possible to elect an African American president, and who inspire us still to struggle on for ‘a more perfect union.’”
The afternoon also includes the naturalization of 200 men and women who came to the United States seeking the American Dream envisioned by these giants.
“Their reasons for choosing to come to the United States and to become citizens are as numerous as they are,” Mackevich said. “It’s clear, though, that our country continues to be a beacon of democracy and justice to the world, in large part because of the leadership shown by Abraham Lincoln and Marian Anderson and others who have gone before us.”
Marian Anderson, who was born in 1897, was described as having “a voice heard once in a hundred years.” Yet in 1939, she was denied the right to perform in Washington, DC’s Constitution Hall due to the color of her skin. Through the efforts of Anderson, the NAACP and its national leader Walter White, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and Howard University, arrangements were made to hold the concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
From the moment that Anderson sang to the nation from the steps of the Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939, she anointed the Lincoln Memorial as a shrine to the ideals of freedom and activated the modern civil rights movement. Those in attendance described her voice “as if it were a prayer” and the performance as a “beautiful awakening.”
A grant from The McCormick Foundation makes the concert possible. Other major funders include Canadian National, Prudential and the Blum-Kovler Fund.
Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to recommend appropriate ways to commemorate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 2009. The Commission is predicated on the premise that it will function as a public-private partnership. Congress appropriates funds for administration. Private funding is necessary, however, to produce all programs, events and materials planned for the Bicentennial. To support the public-private partnership, and insure that Lincoln activities continue into the future, the Commission established the ALBC Foundation, a 501(c)(3) based in Washington, in 2007.
Director of Communications
Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20540
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