November 26, 2013 – Grammy Award winner Dionne Warwick will perform during the Georgetown and Kennedy Center for Performing Arts musical tribute honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and the 2014 John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award winner Lecester Johnson on Jan. 20.
“We are proud to include Dionne Warwick as part of this celebration, at which we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize the outstanding work of Lecester Johnson, a community leader here in Washington, D.C.,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “It’s both an honor and privilege to convene this event each year, in partnership with the Kennedy Center, and to come together with our D.C. community on Martin Luther King Day.”
Warwick, best known for hit songs “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk on By,” “Say a Little Prayer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” is a five-time Grammy winner and 2012 Grammy Museum inductee.
Honoring the Legacy
The singer celebrated her five decades as a performer by releasing the album, Now, last fall, which recently received a Grammy nomination.
“I am excited and so very pleased to be asked to perform at such a historical event and in doing so, to celebrate and honor the legacy of a man who truly changed the history of our country,” Warwick says.
The songstress will perform with the Let Freedom Ring Choir led by Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., who has been the event’s music director since it began in 2003.
Williams, CEO of NEWorks Productions and chief music editor of the bestselling African American Heritage Hymnal, is commissioned each year to compose a new work or arrangement for the Kennedy Center celebration.
“There was a piece I was reminded of that was a favorite of Dr. King – ‘If I Can Help Somebody.’ The words are really powerful,” Williams says.
King used words from the traditional gospel hymn in one of his last sermons, where he encouraged his congregation to seek greatness through service and love as he imagined his own time in this world wouldn’t be long.
Each year, a theme is selected with the hope that it resonates with the members of the choir and the audience of D.C. community members – “something that will inspire and empower persons who are emerging into their own sense of self and purpose,” Williams says.
on One Accord
The choir blends voices of Georgetown students, faculty and staff join together with choir members from the D.C. area to comprise the Let Freedom Ring Choir.
“The choir displays this idea that persons can come together whatever barriers or boundaries there may be to really pursue the cause of justice and peace on one accord,” Williams says. “We literally have persons in the choir from overseas who are students at the university, and then you will have persons from Southeast D.C. who may have come from underprivileged backgrounds. You may even have a local surgeon on stage with a member Georgetown’s faculty. The experiences are varied, but they’re all on stage together, and it’s really powerful.”
Choir members usually gather for one rehearsal each in October and November, and three others leading up to the January performance. Two of the January rehearsals are held at one of the city’s historic churches – such as Shiloh Baptist Church and Metropolitan Baptist Church – that played a significant role in the civil rights movement.
Choir members participate in a fellowship dinner at the selected church and are presented with its historical significance in relation to the city.
Connecting the Dots
“We find opportunities to really connect the dots and make sure that people have a full experience that’s about more than learning songs,” Williams says. “It really is a full enriching kind of experience that’s about building community.”
Georgetown also presents the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award at the event.
The award, named for the D.C. native and legendary Georgetown men’s basketball coach emeritus, will be given to Johnson, the executive director of Academy of Hope. Academy of Hope is a local nonprofit that provides basic adult education and workforce development services to women and men, ages 18 and up.
“From the awarding of the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to an emerging leader in the city to the choir’s contributions to this very special event, Let Freedom Ring truly showcases the talent within our Washington, D.C. community,” Williams says.
Past performers of the MLK tribute include opera singer Jessye Norman, acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, 1994 Kennedy Center honoree Aretha Franklin, Grammy Award-winning singers India.Arie, Patti LaBelle, Bobby McFerrin and Smokey Robinson.
Free tickets to the event are required, and may be picked up starting at 5 p.m. on the day of the concert. The tickets will be distributed two per person on a first-come first-served basis in line in the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations.