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Concert organizer remembered at annual Sing for King at Laurel High

MusicMusical TheaterMartin Luther King Jr.TheaterMusic IndustryMartin Luther King Day

Choir members from 21 area churches and synagogues, accompanied by pianists and a brass section of the U. S. Army Field Band, performed the seventh annual Sing for King to a full house at Laurel High's auditorium Sunday night.

The concert to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, directed by Gregory Lewis, offered instrumental compositions and songs that pay tribute to the legacy of King and the African-American experience from slavery to the present, as well as reading of excerpts of King's speeches.

Essay contest winners Alexis Williams, an eighth-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School; and Shaelon English, an 11th-grader at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, read from their entries of how King's work influenced their lives.

The centerpiece of the yearly concert is the "Trilogy of Dreams," a selection of songs that represent King's struggles during the Civil Rights movement, and is built around three well-known inspirational songs of that period: "Free at Last," "Oh, Freedom" and "We Shall Overcome."

The Trilogy, other selections and musical interludes in the concert were composed by Mack Statham, a Laurel composer, music teacher, music director and church organist who died in September at age 78.

Statham, who received an honorary doctorate of music from Virginia Seminary and College and was known as "Dr. Mack," launched the Sing for King concert in 2008 and most years played the piano during the show alongside his son, Robert Statham.

"The last two years, he wasn't able to play in the concert, but he'd planned to play this year," said Joe Murchison, one of the concert's organizers. "He was the leader and force behind this, so we all said we have to do it again to honor him and Dr. King."

Barbara Baker, a close friend of Statham's who conducted the concert in its second, third and fourth years, agreed that Statham's dream of bringing choirs together in Laurel to celebrate King had to continue this year.

"When he was extremely ill one year, I suggested that we not have the concert and he said that Laurel needed this to remember and reflect on Dr. King, and we had it," Baker said. "He was a brilliant composer and I'm sad because Mack needs to be here to hear his music. But I am glad we were able to do this concert today."

New works

Members of Statham's family lined the front row of the auditorium, listening to the smooth tenor voice of Carlos Petersen as he elegantly sang a tribute to Dr. Mack and other solo selections throughout the evening. Soprano Detra Battle's operatic voice, which has been heard at the White House and worldwide, also filled the auditorium with several solos.

According to Murchison, four days before Statham died he completed a new work for the concert, which his family had not heard until Sunday night's concert. The new work, the "Anniversary Trilogy," pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, led by King.

During intermission, Statham's wife, Loretta Statham, gave the show her approval.

"It's going great and I'm amazed at how they pulled it together without him," she said, considering that her husband was the principal fundraiser and organizer for the event. "This concert is something that he loved and I can feel his presence."

Robert Statham, who sat beside his mother during the concert, said he enjoyed the show and thought that it was as well prepared as in past years. This was the first year that he watched the show as an audience member instead of performing.

"It would have been awkward for me to be playing and looking across at the other piano and not seeing him there," he said. "So, it's different not being on stage, but it's good to be on the receiving end of the concert in the audience."

Many in the audience gave the concert good ratings, including Jacob Wormley, who came with his wife from downtown Washington, D.C.

"I've looked forward to the show for some time," Wormley said.

"It's fabulous," said Rodney McPurdy, of Silver Spring. "I've been coming every year."

City Council member Donna Crary, who was attending the concert for the sixth time said, "It's just as good always," and City Council President Frederick Smalls described it as a "fabulous" tribute to the legacy of King.

"I'm very proud that the city is a co-sponsor of the concert and I'm always pleased by the turnout," Smalls said.

Mayor Craig Moe called the concert an event that "brings the community together," and for many residents, the Sing for King concert has become an annual tradition.

Uncertain future

Those involved with the project say the concert is an expensive undertaking that they may not be able to afford to stage in future years.

"It costs about $8,000 to rent the halls and pay the performers. The city was a principal sponsor and [Prince George's] County Council member Mary Lehman, but most of the funding was raised through individual contributions," Murchison said. "It's going to be hard, especially with [Statham] gone. We all love doing this but the strain of the money has worn many of us down."

Baker added, "Mack was a brilliant fundraiser, but without a major sponsor or corporate sponsorship, this will be the last concert."

Both Crary and Smalls voiced their support of the concert.

"This needs to continue because there are a lot of speaking events out there but not a lot of musicals like this," Crary said.

"This can't end. We can't let that happen," Smalls said. "We'll have to put our heads together on this."

"Laurel is a wonderfully diverse community and needed this King event, but when it started, I didn't think it would be a tradition," Murchison said. "I thought it would run out of steam but the musicians and the audiences still like it."

Loretta Statham said she hopes the concert organizers can come up with a plan so the Laurel concert event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that her husband so loved stays alive.

"My husband worked so hard on this and it's a good thing for the community," she said. "The community enjoys it, so I hope it continues."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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