In honor of Black History Month, Bodhi Tree Concerts is producing a concert called “The Long Dark Shadow” at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. This concert will honor and reflect on the struggles throughout black history.
During the first part of the concert, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir, commonly known as the MLK Choir, will sing a selection of gospel songs and spirituals to remember black leaders, both celebrated and forgotten.
“This time of year, the focus is on remembering the struggle,” says the director of the MLK choir, Ken Anderson. Anderson was integral in the choir’s inception; in addition to leading the choir, Anderson also leads the gospel choir at UC San Diego and is a pastor at his church. “This month, we think of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. For all the names we know, there are thousands of names we will never know.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir was formed 30 years ago out of a Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Choir. The commemorative choir met annually to celebrate MLK Day through music and raise funds to support college students studying the performing or visual arts. Today, the choir tours domestically and internationally, and it still raises money to support students studying the arts.
The second part of the concert will feature the cantata “And They Lynched Him on a Tree,” which was composed in the 1940s by black composer William Grant Still. This work will feature the MLK Choir in conversation with a second choir, and contralto soloist, Judith Malone, who represents the mother of the lynched victim. This unique and disturbing piece will be conducted by David Chase, former music director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus.
Chase selected this work not only because he wanted to share a beautiful piece of music obscured throughout history, but because he wanted to start the discussion it may incite.
“I’m hoping that it will have a big effect and make people think about the subject of race and justice,” says Chase. “The piece makes you stop and think about lynching and the injustices between the races. This is an opportunity to make great music that would have an important impact on the audience.”
“The spirituals are inspiring,” says Chase, “but I think putting them in context with the Still cantata is what makes this concert distinct from other spirituals and gospel concerts.”
The first performance of “The Long Dark Shadow” will be on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m., at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. An additional concert will be on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 5 p.m., at Downtown Abbey in National City. To learn more about the concert, visit bodhitreeconcerts.org. To learn more about the MLK Choir, visit mlkccsd.org.