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MLK tribute builds music bridges with A Sign of the Times, symphony

Jan 11, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. was more than a minister and a dreamer.

"Bridging Musical Worlds" pays tribute to his love of jazz in the 10th annual concert, which takes place Jan. 14 at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church at 5 p.m., preceded by "Dinner On the Yard" at 3:30 p.m. (community meal tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for those 12 years old and younger).

A collaboration between A Sign of the Times, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and UNC Charlotte School of Arts + Architecture, the program was previously held at the historic Excelsior Club.  Previous years included the symphony's string section, but will include the full symphony this year.

"At the time this started, I had become the owner of the Excelsior Club, and of course the Excelsior Club had been around since 1944," civil rights attorney James Ferguson said. "It had a way of bridging its own worlds. It was the first integrated nightclub in the city of Charlotte, and it was the oldest night club in the city of Charlotte at the time. We worked in collaboration with A Sign of the Times to bring jazz to the community--to bring jazz to the club. This idea of doing something with the symphony came about, and Martin Luther King's birthday seemed the perfect time to do it, and the club was the perfect place to do it given its own history in Charlotte and its own history of bridging worlds."

The first performance in 2009 coincided with then-President Barack Obama's inauguration. It also marked the first time symphony musicians performed in the club.

"At the time, the symphony had an annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert that was done at the Blumenthal in Belk Theater, and it was always done on the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend on Monday night on Martin Luther King Day, and it had been going on for a number of years," said Meg Whalen, UNCC's director of communications and external relations for the College of Arts and Architecture, and previously of the symphony. "We decided that we would like to expand the musical programing around the Charlotte Symphony MLK concert, and we got a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council. We created a series of four small concert programs, called 'Bridging Musical Worlds.'"  
Of the four original programs, only the concert with A Sign of the Times remains.

Music offers Charlotteans a place to understand themselves better.

"It's not that music changes so much as what people need for music to do for them changing," A Sign of the Times program director and vocalist Toni Tupponce said. "For example, 20-30 years ago now, back when what we think of as gangster rap really was in the forefront, there was a need of a generation for that, and it was a replication of what either folks saw in their lives or, this is just my opinion, what the media told them they saw in their lives. Regardless of that, it is a response to what they were seeing, feeling and experience.

"People and their needs change, and the music follows, and what they create. We only create out of what we know, and what we experience. Those young people now, growing into adulthood, it's amazing how those are the folks who want to have these conversations--one way or the other, they want to have these conversations. If we can do it musically, in an experience like this, I think it's warranted. It's very, very needed in our community."

A Sign of the Times has served as a bridge throughout Charlotte both in life and in music.
"They've looked for ways to empower the African American community, but also to be a bridge between all the communities that make up Charlotte," Ferguson said.

Said Tupponce: "People are hungering for ways to engage. They have tried to have dialogues in less than intimate ways. People are coming to understand that we're going to find solutions to this craziness that we're in only one-on-one, and one at a time. Each one reaching one. That's how we're going to change."

By Ashley Mahoney, The Charlotte Post
Original story here.