India.Arie headlined an evening of inspirational music during the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The musical tribute to King at the “Let Freedom Ring!” celebration was inspired by the man and the movement for social justice and peace that he led – songs that were an integral tool of hope and optimism.
The “Let Freedom Ring!” Choir, led by Washington, D.C. composer Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., joined Arie on stage with songs celebrating King’s life.
Music “celebrates the interconnectedness of all people,” Arie said as she kicked off a dozen-song set in front of an audience of 2,500. The Grammy-Award-winning singer and songwriter performed several songs from her 2009 album, Testimony: Vol. 2, Love and Politics
, including “Grains,” “Ghetto,” “The Cure, and a remake of Sade’s “Pearls.”
But it was her final song, “There’s Hope,” sung with the choir, that brought the whole audience to its feet to sing and dance together. President Obama and the first family, who were special guests at the celebration, also danced and sang along in the concert hall’s President’s Box.
Prior to Arie’s performance, the choir performed a spiritual, "I'm Going to Do All I Can," reminiscent of those sung during the civil rights movement.
“When [King] saw young people singing in the face of hostility, he said that’s when he first saw the real meaning of the movement,” Obama said during remarks at the beginning of the evening. “He said it was about the faith of the people – it was based on hope.”
Williams, who has led the “Let Freedom Ring!” Choir for seven years, challenged audience members see themselves as “heirs of King’s vision.”
Georgetown commissioned an original work from Williams called “The Dream” that the choir sang during the celebration.
Juhno Lee (B’13), a featured soloist in “I Am the Dream,” called the night an overwhelming and powerful experience, especially once the audience sang and danced together during the finale.
“Music is the universal language of us all,” Lee said. “It has a special quality that brings us all together that can’t quite be explained.” See Related StoryObama Praises Mutombo for Humanitarian WorkMLK Week Events at Georgetown