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LaBelle and Lowery Focus of Kennedy Center MLK Celebration

January 18, 2011 – Patti LaBelle hit the high notes and Georgetown presented an award to civil rights leader Rev. Joseph E. Lowery at the ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. “Let Freedom Ring” celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Jan. 17. 

The concert and ceremony honors the legacy of King and has been jointly hosted by the Kennedy Center and Georgetown since 2003. 

A Remarkable American

“We’ve come together tonight to remember a remarkable American,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said at the event, “an individual who through his heartfelt words and courageous actions shared his dream for a better nation, a new kind of community.”

Georgetown and the Kennedy Center offer the concert free to the Washington, D.C. community.

The event has been called “a community gift” that “sends a message of gratitude for the hundreds of community and spiritual partnerships we’ve engaged in with people of the District of Columbia.”

New Attitude

LaBelle, who peppered her performance with humor, sang newer songs such as “New Attitude” as well as standards such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

She said that despite some health issues she was “standing strong the way Martin Luther King would have wanted me to.”

The event also included performances by the Freedom Ring Celebration Choir, which features 140 members, including university students, faculty and staff and representatives from several area churches.

O Freedom

The choir sang Acha Uhuru Utawale – Swahili for “Let Freedom Ring,” a song commissioned by and composed by the choir’s music director, the Rev. Nolan Williams Jr.

A second commissioned work, O Freedom, Williams wrote with award-winning spoken word poet Messiah Ramkisssoon.  Four Georgetown students served as soloists for the performance – Sonia Bellfield (G’11), Chloe Benson (SFS’11), Justin Crawford (C’13) and Taylor Griffin (C’14).

Legacy of a Dream

DeGioia presented the John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, which is named after the university’s longtime basketball coach and recognizes significant contributions in community service and social justice that reflect King’s vision. 

The recipient of the award co-founded with Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King. Lowery served as president of the conference for 20 years and delivered the demands of the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march to Alabama governor George Wallace in 1965.

Spirit and Human Dignity

Lowery later served as the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and in 2009 delivered the benediction at the inauguration of President Obama.

DeGioia said the civil rights leader’s “spirit, fearlessness, and commitment to human dignity, resonates so deeply” King’s legacy.

In his acceptance remarks, Lowery spoke of King’s “challenge to the nation,” which he described as “the will to rise up from the lowlands of race and culture to the higher ground of content of character.”

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