Do Savannnah

Concert of Duke Ellington’s sacred music to feature dozens of singers, musicians

  • Conductor Roland Carter
  • DeVonne Gardner
  • Robert Sims (Photo by Christian Steiner)
 

Concert of Duke Ellington’s sacred music to feature dozens of singers, musicians

25 Apr 2017

Take one big band, 120 singers, a tap dancer and a world-renowned conductor and mix well.

What do you have? A musical feast of gospel and jazz called “The Best of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts.”

“This will be a good time for all,” says Roger Moss, co-founder and executive director of the Savannah Children’s Choir. “We are eager for all of Savannah to attend.”

Set for April 30 at the Lucas Theatre, this big musical event features the Savannah Children’s Choir, the Savannah State University Chorale and the Johnson High School Choir. There also are international and locally famous soloists.

DeVonne Gardner was discovered by Ellington when she was just 16. She sang at Ellington’s second sacred concert.

Robert Sims won a gold medal award at the American Traditions Vocal Competition.

An alumna of the Savannah Children’s Choir, Jazmine Thomas has traveled nationally and internationally with the acclaimed Howard University Gospel Choir, including a performance at the White House.

There’s movement at the concert, too, with tap dancer Aaron Parkhurst, who been a dancer for 20 years. For the past 10 years, he has been working professionally in New York City as a performer and teacher.

Conductor Roland Carter will bring it all together. He was selected to conduct the inaugural concert of the African American Music Series at Carnegie Hall.

The recipient of the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award, Carter has been recognized by universities throughout the country, including an honorary doctorate from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.

The big band features musicians from across the region and the entire country. It is anchored by local jazz pianist and arranger Eric Jones.

While Ellington isn’t known for his sacred music, he did write some memorable gospel music.

“He actually wrote at least two pieces,” Moss says. “And we’re doing selections from both of them.

“The music is amazing, absolutely amazing. One of the singers we have, DeVonne Gardner, when he was writing it, he had her voice in mind.

“One of the reasons we are doing it is because this wonderful piece could unite all of Savannah in Lucas Theatre for one incredibly uplifting afternoon,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of reaching out to the faith community, the churches and synagogues.”

The music is “aurally and visually exciting work,” Moss says.

“I became aware of one piece when I was in college. They played this piece where David stands before the Lord.

“It involves a tap dancer,” he says. “I sat spellbound listening to it.”

Carter is an expert on spirituals and African-American sacred music, Moss says.

“He has proclaimed this production as part of his 75th birthday tour,” Moss says. “It’s a big deal. We have a 14-piece big band.”

The concert also provides an educational experience for the Savannah Children’s Choir.

“We always try to offer opportunities for our children to work with professionals,” Moss says. “They are working with other singers and a conductor.

“There will be a lot of people onstage. It is a first for Savannah. This may be the first time a children’s choir has been involved in something like this.

“Roland rewrote one piece to feature the children’s choir,” Moss says. “They sound glorious. It’s an arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer that Duke wrote.”

While the piece sounds easy, it is actually very difficult, Moss says.

“The rhythmic and chord structure are kind of surprising,” he says. “It is fun watching our kids master it.”

The concert was Moss’ idea.

“It has been on my mind that someone should do a Duke Ellington sacred concert,” he said. “I’m originally from Chattanooga and Roland taught at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“I saw Roland at a convention and pitched the idea and he loved it. It’s been wonderful, the sponsors who came out.

“I just want all of Savannah to show up,” Moss says. “There may be moments the audience will want to stand up and shout.”

The timing of the concert is good, Moss says.

“It’s so fitting it’s after Passover and Easter,” he says. “This is the joy that comes after.”

IF YOU GO

What: Savannah Children’s Choir presents “The Best of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts”

When: 3 p.m. April 30

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $35, $65, $100

Info: savannahboxoffice.com

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