dom 11 apr | Sparrow Live

Lifting Our Voices: Songs of Struggle and Hope by African-American Composers

Featuring an appearance by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Milton Community Concerts, in collaboration with Courageous Conversations Towards Racial Justice, presents a benefit concert. Net proceeds will go to support the Neponset Neighbors Together Fund through the United Way.
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Lifting Our Voices: Songs of Struggle and Hope by African-American Composers

Time & Location

11 apr, 15:00 – 11 mag, 19:00
Sparrow Live

About the Event

Milton Community Concerts, in collaboration with Courageous Conversations Towards Racial Justice, will present a livestream benefit concert, “Lifting Our Voices: Songs of Struggle and Hope by African American Composers”. This event will feature an all-star group of singers in a program to benefit the Neponset Neighbors Together Fund through the United Way. This concert will also feature an honored guest appearance by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who will speak on the topic of racial justice and equity.

The composers wrote these songs for the concert stage on a variety of topics, including the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, Negro League Baseball, reactions to 9/11, and a touching story of an abandoned infant found in a phone booth outside a supermarket. Additional themes of racial struggle and hope will be heard in songs with powerful texts by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Two composers widely known for their arrangements of spirituals, H.T. Burleigh and Hall Johnson, will be presented through their original compositions. Other African American composers to be featured include Margaret Bonds, Florence Price, Duke Ellington, and many others.

Singers of color from the Boston area and from around the country will be performing in this concert. While many of their performances will be pre-recorded due to COVID restrictions, several songs will also be sung live while socially distanced at First Parish of Milton in Milton, MA. Many of the singers have won national vocal competitions and regularly sing with prominent opera companies and orchestras throughout the United States. They are: Daon Drisdom, Yazid Gray, Symone Harcum, Michelle Johnson, Melissa Joseph, Brian Major, Davron Monroe, Neil Nelson, Brianna Robinson, Jermaine Smith, and Ron Williams. Narrating this program will be Brother Dennis Slaughter, and the pianist will be Timothy Steele.

The guest speaker for this concert, U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, is an activist, legislator, survivor, and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout her first term in Congress, she has become known as a champion for justice. Currently she serves on two powerful Congressional committees: the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the House Committee on Financial Services. Prior to being elected to Congress, she served on the Boston City Council for 8 years, and was the first woman of color elected to the council in its 100-year history.

All net proceeds from this livestream concert wil go to support the Neponset Neighbors Together Fund, a COVID-19 fund to support neighbors of Milton, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Dorchester who are adversely impacted by the current health crisis, with a focus on our most economically vulnerable neighbors. Funds will go to assist families with rent, food, utilities, internet connectivity for families with school-aged children, essential supplies and medications, and other basic needs.

Generous grants from the Milton Cultural Council and from Celebrate Milton! are assisting in the production of this concert.  Another upcoming concert, “Music She Wrote: Songs By and About Women”, will livestream on May 9, 2021 at 3pm. For more information visit: https://www.miltoncommunityconcerts.com

Narrator: Brother Dennis Slaughter

Guest Speaker: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

Pianists: Timothy Steele and Brandon Eldredge

Singers:

Daon Drisdom, tenor

Yazid Gray, tenor

Symone Harcum, soprano

Michelle Johnson, soprano

Melissa Joseph, soprano

Brian Major, baritone

Davron Monroe, tenor

Neil Nelson, bass-baritone

Brianna Robinson, soprano

Jermaine Smith, tenor

Ron Williams, baritone

Dennis L. Slaughter, Ed.M, DLP,  born and reared in Jackson, Mississippi, is the son, grandson, brother, nephew, and cousin of preachers, pastors, lay speakers, and church musicians. He began directing children's church choirs when he was ten years old and participated in leadership roles in school and church choirs throughout his middle school, high school, and college years. Brother Dennis, as he is affectionately known, is founding director of the Boston Community Gospel Choir and since 1995 has been artistic director of the Boston Pops Orchestra Gospel Choir. He has received numerous awards for his talent and community service including Bearer of the Flame, Passing the Torch Award (Boston Renaissance Charter School); Boston Neighborhood Fellows Award (The Philanthropic Initiative, Inc.); Community Builder Award (Town of Milton, Massachusetts); and the Gospel Music Award (New England Conservatory of Music).Brother Dennis  has served as Minister of Music in Mississippi, Colorado, and Massachusetts. He has filled leadership posts in Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, and United Methodist churches over his 40 years of service.In addition to his musical life, Brother Dennis is also an educator. He began his career as a teacher, and then went on to be a principal, central office administrator, program director, and organization development specialist. He has over 25 years of direct experience in organization development, crisis management, advocacy, team building, consulting, and community outreach/organizing. He holds an undergraduate degree in Music from the University of Southern Mississippi, a master’s degree in Education Administration and Policy Studies from Boston University, and a doctoral degree in Law & Policy from Northeastern University. He is the proud husband of Dr. Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter (a clinical psychologist to whom he has been happily married since 1985). They are the blessed parents of two adult sons, Khari and Gyasi. He is convinced that through God, all things are possible.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is an activist, a legislator, a survivor, and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout her career as a public servant, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to ensure that those closest to the pain are closest to the power - driving and informing policymaking. Throughout her first term in Congress, Congresswoman Pressley has been a champion for justice: reproductive justice, justice for immigrants, consumer justice, justice for ageing Americans, justice for workers, justice for survivors of sexual violence, and justice for the formerly and currently incarcerated. Currently, Congresswoman Pressley serves on two powerful Congressional committees – the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Committee on Financial Services– both of which have remained focused on legislatively addressing issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people. Prior to being elected to Congress, she served on the Boston City Council for 8 years, and was the first woman of color elected to the council in its 100-year history.

Timothy Steele is an active vocal coach, collaborative pianist, and conductor, and has taught for twenty-nine years on the opera faculty at New England Conservatory.  He has conducted for outreach tours with the Boston Lyric Opera and is a former music director for Opera Providence.  He has served as assistant conductor/pianist for over 190 productions with twenty-five opera companies, including Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Wolf Trap Opera, Central City Opera, and Opera Maine.  He assisted with the Pulitzer Prize winning opera MADAME WHITE SNAKE for productions in Boston and Taiwan and the OUROBOROS TRILOGY in 2016, and for three years collaborated with WaterFire-Providence on a unique and popular series of opera evenings.  In Boston he has performed with Emmanuel Music, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, among others.

Georgia native Daon Drisdom is a performer, teacher and church music director.  Daon is a recent graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music where he completed his masters degree and studied with Carole Haber. Now based in Boston, he works as a freelance singer and teacher in the city and surrounding areas and serves as Minister of Music for the Union Church in Waban. Praised for his rich tone and dramatic stage presence, his credits include performances of the roles of Spinelloccio from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Arbace from Mozart’s Idomeneo with NEC Opera. He has also sung scenes from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride (Jeník), Mozart’s Idomeneo (Idomeneo), Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (Fritz) and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (Chevalier de la Force). Most recently, Drisdom has appeared with MassOpera and as guest performer on NEC’s Liederabend recital series. In previous years Daon has performed in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (Figaro) with the 2015 Operafestival di Roma summer program in Orvieto, Italy, an appearance with the Augusta Choral Society in Menotti’s Amahl & the Night Visitors (King Melchior, and in Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Papageno) with the American Opera & Musical Theatre Institute at Augusta University. Mr. Drisdom is a multiple finalist and winner of the Southeast Regional, Georgia State and National Student Auditions of the National Association of the Teachers of Singing. He has appeared in festivals such as The Westobou Festival of Augusta, Georgia and The Bay View Music Festival of Petoskey, Michigan.  Drisdom is the first recipient of the Bill Toole Scholarship at Augusta University for the 2016-2017 academic year and joined the list of singers who received the Lucie C. Ruzicka Award for Musical Excellence upon graduating.

Yazid Gray, originally from Gaithersburg, MD, is currently a second year Resident Artist with Pittsburgh Opera where he is scheduled to perform in all four mainstage productions of their revamped 2020/21 season. These roles will include Guglielmo in Così fan Tutte, Soldier in David T. Little’s Soldier Songs, Athamas/Apollo in Semele, and Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird by Daniel Schnyder. During the summer of 2020, Yazid was set to return to Chautauqua Opera to sing the roles of Sciarrone in Tosca and Herman Atlan in The Mother of Us All. He was also scheduled to perform on their Afternoon of Song concert series. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those productions and performances had to be canceled. In lieu of these performances, he participated as a featured young artist in their digital season. In the summer of 2019, he made his debut with the company singing Fiorello in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In the 2018/19 season, Yazid sang the role of Bello in La Fanciulla del West with Maryland Lyric Opera. He then went on to join Opera Santa Barbara as a member of their Chrisman Studio Artist program. During this time, he performed the roles of Schaunard in La Bohème, Zaretski in Eugene Onegin, Le Podestat in Le docteur Miracle, and Thomas Putnam in The Crucible. Yazid made his professional debut in the summer of 2018 as Charlie in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers with Opera Maine. The production toured throughout the Portland, ME area. Yazid received his Bachelor of Music in Voice from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN and is a graduate of University of Michigan where he received his Master of Music in Voice. His credits at Michigan include Oliver Jordan in the Michigan premiere of William Bolcom’s Dinner at Eight, Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette, and Demetrius in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. In his last year, Yazid performed in the University Musical Society’s concert of Porgy and Bess as Frazier and the Undertaker. Also comfortable on the musical theater stage, Yazid has performed roles such as Jim Conley in Parade, Hunter Bell [title of show], Al The Most Happy Fella and Ivor Babes in Arms.

Soprano, Symone Harcum began the 2019-2020 season as a member of The Herndon Foundation Emerging Artist Program at Virginia Opera where she sang the role of Clorinda in La Cenerentola and covered the title role and sang The High Priestess in Aïda. In the fall of 2020, she was a finalist in both the Tri-Cities Opera Competition and the New York International Opera + Premiere Opera Vocal Competition. In the summer of 2020 she was set to rejoin the Des Moines Metro Opera as an apprentice artist where she would sing the role of Mascha and cover Lisa in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades. However, due to COVID-19, the season was cancelled. Symone, instead, participated in the reimagined virtual festival where she sang Donna Anna in a scene from Don Giovanni and Magda in the act 2 finale of La Rondine. The 2021 season would have seen her Minnesota Opera debut in the role of Girlfriend 2 in the award winning opera, Blue. This past fall, she participated in Virginia Opera’s alternate fall initiative, “Stayin’ Alive” where she participated in socially distanced performances in the community. Other notable roles and achievements include being 2018’s first place winner of both the National Society of Arts and Letters-DC Dorothy Lincoln-Smith Voice Competition and the Sylvia Green Voice Competition; The roles of Bea in Opera Maine’s production of Three Decembers, Krystyna Zywulska in Peabody Opera's workshop of Out of Darkness: Two Remain with the composer, Jake Heggie, and librettist, Gene Scheer, Gertrude (the mother) in Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Norfolk State University in 2012, she worked as a choral director in Norfolk Public Schools until 2016. Symone received her Master’s of Music from Peabody Conservatory at John’s Hopkins University and continues to study in the studio of Denyce Graves and Margaret Baroody.

Soprano Michelle Johnson, a Grand Prize Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions where she was described as “a clear audience favorite” (New York Times), has been lavished with praise for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation... Her voice is velvety and pliant — a dulcet dream.” This past season’s engagements included Miss Johnson’s debut with Chicago Opera Theater as Zemfira in Aleko, a soloist feature performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra, a debut with Waterbury Symphony for their Holiday Pops and a return to Chautauqua to perform Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. During the 2020-2021 season, Ms. Johnson makes her Allentown Symphony, Opera Tampa, Florentine Opera and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia debuts and she returns to Teatro Grattacielo performing the title role of Giordano’s Fedora. A favorite of many houses, Miss Johnson made recent returns to Lyric Fest for “I Hear America Singing,” Sarasota Opera as Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and to Boston Landmark Orchestra as a soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  Miss Johnson has also made a name for herself as one of the most in demand Aidas in the opera world today, performing Verdi’s tragic heroine with Glimmerglass Music Festival, Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Columbus, Knoxville Opera, Opera Idaho, and Sarasota Opera among others.  Miss Johnson’s debut with Columbus Symphony as soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem was highly praised, and her collaboration with Madison Opera as Santuzza in their most recent production of Cavalleria Rusticana was given rave reviews. Past opera credits include Leonora in Il trovatore most recently with Hawaii Opera Theatre, Minnie in La fanciulla del West with Kentucky Opera, Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos with Sarasota Opera, the title role in Manon Lescaut and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Opera Philadelphia, and Mimi in La bohème with both Annapolis Opera and PortOpera. Her concert and solo credits include the soprano solo in Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9  with Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9  with Boston Philharmonic, an all French Opera concert with Maestro Michel Plasson in Montpellier, France, the soprano soloist in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem with Juneau Symphony, and an all Verdi concert with The Princeton Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Rossen Milanov. Adept in non-standard repertoire as well, Miss Johnson performed the title role in the rarely performed Sakuntala with Teatro Grattacielo along with numerous other contemporary works. A graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Boston University Opera Institute, and New England Conservatory, she was seen as the title role in Suor Angelica, Leonora in Oberto, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the Countess in Capriccio, and Alice Ford in Falstaff during her educational tenure. In addition to winning a Grand Prize at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Miss Johnson has also graced the winner’s circle of the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation, Gerda Lissner Foundation and the Giulio Gari Foundation.

First-generation Haitian-American soprano, Melissa Joseph, graduated from Georgia State University with both a Bachelor and Master of Music in Vocal Performance. Her most recent onstage work includes singing the role of Musetta in LA BOHÈME by Puccini with Peach State Opera. Her collegiate work includes Pamina (DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE), Peep-Bo (THE MIKADO), Sandman (HANSEL AND GRETEL), and Micaëla (CARMEN) with the Georgia State University Opera. Melissa has also placed in several competitions both regionally and nationally. In 2019, Ms. Joseph was a finalist in three national competitions and won first place at the National Association of Negro Musicians New York District auditions. In addition, she was also awarded the Kristin Lewis Foundation Artist Development Award in 2016, and was named a semifinalist in the 2018 FAVA Grand Concours Vocal Competition. Last season, Melissa moved her talents to Boston, MA, and has debuted with White Snakes Projects, NEC Summer Opera, and New England Opera Intensive. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Melissa’s performances have moved to a virtual setting. Ms. Joseph was featured in GENERATION NEXT: A VIRTUAL RECITAL by Angel Blue. During the pandemic, Melissa was also featured in an international virtual performance highlighting the influence of opera music in Haiti in conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire. In October, Ms. Joseph was awarded the Hibbitt-Savoca Award and as a result will be joining Tri-Cities Opera as a Resident Artist in the 2021-2022 season.

Charismatic baritone Brian Major continues to be praised by critics for his “velvety voice” and “commanding stage presence.” In the fall of 2019, Mr. Major joined Madison Opera for their production of La traviata as Baron Douphol and covering Giorgio Germont. In 2020, Mr. Major returns to Opera Grand Rapids as Ping in Turandot, Toledo Opera as Marcello in La bohème, makes his South American debut as Amonasro in Aida with the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo and makes his Princeton Festival debut as Germont in La traviata. During the 2020-2021 season, Mr. Major also will make his Chautauqua Orchestra debut singing Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s Sancutary Road as well as selections from Porgy & Bess and his Opera on the James debut as Scarpia in Tosca. Recently, Mr. Major made debuts with Toledo Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, and Opera Carolina in their productions of The Magic Flute and Carmen where he sang the roles of The Speaker and El Dancaïro.  Other 2018-2019 season highlights included his turn in title role of Gianni Schicchi with Michigan State University Opera Theatre, a recital for the Shivers Concert Series in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a return to Colorado to sing Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with The Colorado College Summer Music Festival.  Mr. Major was also a featured musical guest at an Evening of Joyful Praise at the historic Great Auditorium in New Jersey and closed out his season as the baritone soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Past season credits include his debut with Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony Orchestra in a collaborative production of Aïda as Amonasro.  Mr. Major also presented Kirke Mechem’s Songs of the Slave in Boston Symphony Hall and reprised the role of Amonasro in a debut with Opera Theatre of the Rockies in their twentieth-year celebration where Mr. Major’s voice was described as “honey-filled and capable of organic, dramatic expression.” Quickly gaining renowned for his proficiency in the iconic dramatic repertoire, Opera News praised Mr. Major’s Escamillo as “embracing the love of the spotlight” and “never losing the strength of the vocal line.”  Mr. Major has performed with Opera Saratoga as Giorgio in Catan’s Il Postino, with Opera in the Heights where he gave a “sexy and despicable, full-bodied and broad” performance of the title role in Don Giovanni, with Opera Company of Middlebury where he sang the role of Germont in La traviata, and in Montpellier, France where he performed an all French Opera concert with Maestro Michel Plasson.  Other operatic credits include Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Marcello in La bohème, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, 1st Nazarene in Salome, and George Milton in Of Mice and Men.An accomplished recitalist and concert artists, Mr. Major has been the baritone soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah, Vaughan-Williams Five Mystical Songs, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  The majority of these works were performed with The Siena Chamber Orchestra in Italy, Sun Valley Opera in Idaho, Des Moines Symphony Orchestra, and the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra.  Mr. Major has won numerous awards and honors on the competition circuit, including 2nd Prize Harold Haugh Opera Vocal Competition, 1st prize Opera Ebony Vocal Competition, 3rd prize Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition, 2nd prize Opera at San Nicola Vocal Competition, 1st prize Harlem Opera Theater Vocal Competition, 1st prize Atlanta Music Club Vocal Competition, and Encouragement Prize Palm Beach Atlantic Vocal Competition.  Mr. Major holds degrees from Morehouse College, Boston University, and Michigan State University.

Davron S. Monroe is a Boston based award winning singer and actor with vocal talents that run the gamut from Opera to Musical Theatre, gospel to jazz and everything else in between. Davron is the 2019 recipient of The Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Musical performance in Breath and Imagination the story of Roland Hayes, African-American classic concert artist (who was also a Boston based artist in the later years of his life). Other performances of note include Murder on the Orient Express, The Wiz, Camelot, Company, My Fair Lady, City of Angels, Sweeney Todd, One Man, Two Guvnors, The Mikado, Avenue Q, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Lyric Stage Co.), The View Upstairs (Speakeasy Stage) The Little Mermaid, RAGTIME (Company Theatre), Man of La Mancha (New Rep), Caroline or Change, Godspell (Moonbox Productions), Hairspray (Reagle Music Theatre), Dreamgirls, Jesus Christ Superstar, Children of Eden, Songs for a New World (premiere, Key West Symphony, Broadway Across America), Smokey Joe’s Café, Cinderella, Streakin’!, a ’70s musical revue, and Sweet Charity. Davron has also appeared with many orchestral and vocal organizations, such as Boston Landmarks Orchestra (Lost in the Stars – a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and The Chariot Jubilee), Brevard Music Center, Finalist in the Orlando Opera’s Heinz Rehfuss Singing Actor Awards, Disney Entertainment’s Voices of Liberty, South Florida Symphony, Houston Ebony Opera Guild, the New England Spiritual Ensemble and many other organizations throughout the greater Boston area. Davron was the first recipient of the Bob Jolly Award for Boston local actors.

Neil Nelson graduated from The New England Conservatory of Music with a degree in music performance. Mr. Nelson has performed operatic roles domestically and abroad with prestigious companies such as Tatarstan Opera Theatre and Ballet (Kazan, Russia), Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Magic City Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Orlando Opera. Although he loves the drama of opera, Neil also has a passion for oratorio and concert singing. He has appeared as a soloist in concert with ensembles such as the South Florida Symphony, the Lynn Conservatory Orchestra, the Ocean City Pops, the Southwest Florida Symphony, and the New England Conservatory Orchestra. His recent engagements include singing the role of Balthazar in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors with Opera Fusion and appearing as the bass soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the South Florida Symphony. Mr. Nelson now resides in South Florida with his wife and two daughters. Wh