Members of The First Baptist Church in America &
Newman Congregational Church Choirs
with the Stages off Freedom Chorus:
Sabrie Pearl Davis Griffin
Darius Henderson, Jr.
Original Choral Work Selected to Celebrate Dr. King at
the Nation’s Oldest Baptist Church
“Let Justice Roll!” Will Be Performed by Combined Choirs, Guest Artists and Rhode Island Leaders
Musicians from The First Baptist Church in America in Providence’s downtown are joining forces with East Providence’s Newman Congregational Church UCC and Stages of Freedom – the non-profit organization that generates funding to increase swimming proficiency in the Rhode Island African American community – to produce an afternoon of original choral music designed to lift up the leadership and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This dramatic concert begins with Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and ends with a dramatic choral cantata with narration entitled “Let Justice Roll!” – an original work written by Julliard graduate and Yale Institute of Sacred Music lecturer, Mark Miller. The concert will take place at 3pm on Sunday, February 23, 2020 at The First Baptist Church in America, 75 North Main Street, Providence. Admission is free.
The cantata captures the Letter’s vision and power, bringing alive its themes through a tapestry of guest artists with solo performances that include RI sacred jazz pianist Claudius Cooper, New York City baritone Frank Mathis, and Newman Congregational’s own Becky Bass, soprano. Additionally, Providence leadership and diversity strategist Lawrence E. Wilson, narrator for this event, will conduct the chorus in its performance of two of his own works.
Choral Directors Stephen Martorella and Geoffrey Green issued a joint statement regarding their selection of “Let Justice Roll!” as the centerpiece of this sacred concert. “The cantata is the ultimate representation of Mark Miller’s hunger – like Dr. King’s – to break down the dividing walls of hostility and fear. Miller believes passionately that music can change the world and, in the words of public scholar and author Cornell West, ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ It inspires and empowers people to create and sustain God’s Beloved Community.”
There are many things that people don’t know about the smallest state of the USA. There is one area code. It’s called Rhode Island, while there are 30 islands in the state. It was the first state to initiate the 1st Amendment. There were over 1,000 slave ships that came through Rhode Island, many documented in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. There is jazz at the new Yoleni’s on Tuesday nights with Mibbit Threats. In fact, there is much live music, quite well presented in this very Motif RI. There are accredited public schools, some of which are charter schools, one of which has 98% attendance. There is the Michael Van Leesten Pedestrian Bridge. There have been 25 annual Langston Hughes Community Poetry events.
And there is Stages of Freedom.
Teachers, scholars, students, humanitarians, activists, writers, ALL take note.
Like many gems, Stages of Freedom is often encountered by word of mouth. It has an unlimited number of offerings, all of which are breathtaking. A book store (10 Westminster, 02903, phone: 401-421-0606), a museum (“Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge “and “Rare Letter from John Brown regarding the sale of Slaves), an event space featuring “Freedom Factor”, live performances, youth empowerment workshops, historical walking tours, swimming lessons for youth, events celebrating our shared history, speaking programs, exhibits on black life and culture, concerts, bow-tying workshops, tea parties, and free swimming lessons for the luckiest. The list goes on.
There is a packed schedule on their Facebook page, including this Saturday’s “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.” They are justifiably proud of the 5th Annual: “And Still I Rise” which happens at the First Baptist Church in America. It is likely that there are some who will attend (not because they know it is a tribute to Maya Angelou and More by Great Rhode Island Women) for the excuse of getting an inside glimpse of this gorgeous landmark. This church and meeting house was founded in 1638 by Roger Williams, built in 1774, and became a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
A brilliant event, the impetus for this article, graced said space on February 23, 2020, called “Let Justice Roll: An Original Cantata Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Mark Miller. There couldn’t have been a more beautiful setting for the power and dignity that ignited Benefit Street in Providence. The light cascaded upon the musicians, choir, and presenters like heaven was illuminating history. Young people greeted hundreds as they entered the establishment with unforced manners and authentic kindness. There was celebration in the air, and the seats were comfy.
For those who wish to relive the experience, or who were not fortunate enough to attend, it seems that Stages of Freedom will be sharing video. This footage is of utmost value. Everything about this event is riveting, and the detail of the program is a valuable study guide for the informed and/or curious.
Ray Rickman, Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, delivered a diligent welcome, qualifying that he tried not to produce the event. His reason was unpredictable to many in the audience. He explained that the organization is preoccupied with raising one million dollars to sustain free swimming lessons for Rhode Island youth. He talked about bow ties, he asked, “Barnaby, do you know how to tie a bow tie?” He spoke of tea parties and the importance of teaching youth specific skill sets.
Thank goodness the lyrics for “Birmingham Sunday” by Richard Farina were in the program to distract the weeping listener, or rather, clarify to the less versed appreciator, the depth of the sentiments. The sheer subject manner of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls and injured 22 others was tear-jerking. The dynamic delivery by Becky Bass, Stephen Martorella, Geoff Greene, and the absolute angelic choir transcended truth. When a full congregation joins together and looks in the same direction, art happens. Miracles happen. History is revered.
From 1963, the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", was delivered by a diverse 11 presenters, including Stages of Freedom Program Director Robb Dimmick, Rhode Island icon Rose Weaver, Robert DiMuccio, Chairman, President and CEO of Amica Mutual Insurance Company, and Darius Henderson, Jr., Student - Jacqueline Walsh School for the Arts. The letter, a major artifact from the Civil Rights Movement and grist material for the MLK 6 Principals of Non-Violence, stands out with some of the most famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
On this day, because of the stellar line up and placement of the readers in the presentation, King’s reference to explaining the atrocity of racism to his own children let the bells of sin ring. Channeling the deep well of injustice, Rose Weaver read how Dr. King had to explain to his 6 year old daughter “why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television…Funtown is closed to colored children.” A father tries to explain while a Civil Rights Leader attempts to school his own oppressors.
Stages of Freedom is a goldmine of opportunity. No matter which programming interests the audience, workshop member, walking tour participant, swimmer, diner, or consumer, it will offer utmost quality.
See its Facebook, website: stagesoffreedom.org, or visit its museum and store. Or simply donate.