The Martin Luther King Jr. 50th Anniversary Concert Symphony of Brotherhood at the downtown Colburn School’s Zipper Hall on Sunday was just that—a symphony of brotherhood. It offered a gathering of Black musicians and composers, Korean musicians and composers and White musicians and composers—all in a musical show of solidarity. The concert was the brainchild of event promoter John Malveaux.
The extravaganza got under way with the all-African American MusicUNTOLD String Quartet playing the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Then there was Korean-American Phoenix Park-Kim playing piano as Afro-Asian violinist Annelle Gregory played the old Negro spiritual, “Talk About a Chile that Do Love Jesus” and Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Deep River.”
Korean-American cellist Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun played African American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Lamentations: Black Folk Song Suite for Cello Solo, IV. Perpetual Motion.”
Anglo pianist Polli Chambers-Salazar and flutist Laurel Zucker added Taylor Perkinson’s “Little Light of Mine.”
Anglo soprano Juliana Gondek sang African American composer John Carter’s “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees” with James Lent on piano.
But of course, there were operatic juxtapositions such as African American bass-baritone Mark Steven Doss singing Gaetano Donizetti’s “Cruda Funesta Smania,” and African American soprano Anita Johnson singing Duke Ellington’s “Heaven” and “Almighty God” as Richard Thompson played piano.
And there was African American bass-baritone Cedric Trenton Berry singing Hall Johnson’s “Ride on King Jesus” and Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World” from composer William Grant Still’s opera “Troubled Island.”
In between the presentations, narrators Dennis Bartel, the morning host of classical radio station KUSC, and Zanaida Robles, a teaching assistant at USC, offered historical sketches.
Bartel told a story about Martin Luther King Jr., who as a young man in his father’s church, was a friend of a young lady named Mattawilda Dobbs, a budding soprano. It seems John Dobbs, Mattawilda’s father, nourished the hope that the young Martin and Mattawilda would become an item. But it was not be. The attractive and talented Mattawilda went on to become the first Black woman to receive a long-term contract from the Metropolitan Opera. King eventually married another soprano, Coretta Scott, whom he met when she was a student at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
In another historical observation, Bartel told the audience that Duke Ellington wrote songs for Dr. King. One was called, humorously, “Dr. King Fit the Battle of Alabama.”
USC’s Robles reminded the audience that during the 1965 Riot, Jewish merchants were especially hard-hit. But as the Jews left the Black neighborhood, Korean-Americans merchants moved in. However, the Koreans merchants were hit hard in the 1992 riot.
To cap the evening off, soprano Jumi Kim sung a new work titled “Candlelight for Soprano” written by Korean composer Joopoong Kim to honor the late Dr. King. Most of the audience couldn’t understand the words, but the sentiment was heartfelt.
There was one, and only one, obvious bad note during the concert. The outstanding event was presented by MusicUNTOLD.com, but one could have referred to it as music UNheard since only about 100 of the auditorium’s 430 seats were filled.
Otherwise, it was an event fit for a King.