From every voice, a dream

A diverse crowd steadily permeates Ted Mann Concert Hall, milling over a display spanning across four states and over the course of two decades as it traces the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The display, in correspondence with the 27th annual “From Every Voice” concert on January 20, pays tribute to the accomplishments of Dr. King, who effectuated perhaps the most pinnacle moments in Civil Rights history.

The concert is greeted by Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Barcelo, after giving a brief history of the recital, finishes by contending that “music has played a vital and intricate role in the social justice movement, and has inspired social revolution.” She goes on to state that the “proactive power of song” in the Civil Rights movement – via musical genres such as gospel, jazz, and, most recently, hip-hop – has “brought awareness to societal injustice,” while articulating the voice of the people and their voraciousness for freedom and justice.

She ends by announcing her personal commitment, while as a representative of her department, to equity, advancing social justice, and striving toward peace.

Tracey Buckner, daughter of the late Reginald Buckner, professor in the School of Music at the University of Minnesota and founder of the tribute concert in 1980, performed a soulful and operatic ballad relating human nature, its spectrum of love and hatred, to the chaos and peace of the sea.

Decorated sibling gospel quintet The Steeles, having performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues and recorded with the likes of (the artist periodically known as) Prince, burst onto the stage, immediately urging the audience to “break loose in these aisles,” and not to “let those seats or your neighbors confine you.”

Possibly the most powerful moment of the performance was the point at which the five artists acted out a brief skit which imitated Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to relocate on a segregated public bus. With a few metal folding chairs as props, Jearlyn Steele (playing the part of Rosa Parks) reacts to a command to remove herself from her seat with the retort: “My feet are tired and so is my soul.” She then breaks into an a cappella rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” her voice resonating with power and soul as she repeats the words to her fellow passengers.

Jearlyn goes on to articulate Rosa Parks’ vibrant example of African American womanhood, and who, like Dr. King, taught us the power one individual can wield in advancing human freedom.

As the evening progressed, one got the feeling they were being saved as the Steeles continued through the performance with relentless energy, performing songs of various genres, including gospel, jazz, blues, pop, and R&B, with all the spirit of a southern Baptist revival. At one point during their performance of “Love Train,” J.D. Steele literally initiated a love train, mesmerizing the audience like a pied-piper of sorts, jumping up on chairs, occasionally expelling a Little Ritchie-esque “Ow!” or a Michael Jackson-esque “Hooh!”

As the performance drew to a close, Jearlyn Steele went on to state that, although Dr. King was “taken, stolen, cheated from us,” that we must not allow him to have “fought, bled and died” in vain. She goes on to instill hope in the audience, vowing that, “It’s 2008: transition, change is coming,” that everything “is gonna be alright.”

After performing Stevie Wonder’s rendition of “Happy Birthday,” the Steeles dance offstage only to be lured back to center stage by way of a standing ovation. As they broke into an encore of the hymn “Restore Me,” the audience proceeds to break loose from the aisles with new-found zeal; people of various ages and races, oblivious to their structured seating, their subdued neighbors or their lack of rhythm, paid tribute with all the soul they could muster.

In between choruses and choreographed dance, Jearlyn Steele praises the audience: “I think that’s what Dr. King wanted us to do: sing together, work together.”

Walking amongst the teeming masses there could be noticed a drastic contrast in energy from before the concert: there was a sense of brotherhood, of comraderie, an extra bit of bounce in peoples’ steps. It was as if before the concert those in attendance were consumed by the great tragedy that was the assassination of Dr. King.

Afterwards, it was as if everyone came to the unanimous conclusion that we must not lose ourselves in tragedy, but instead be fully engaged and work together to ensure that the greatest tragedy does not take place: that this great man’s life’s work was not in vain.