Happy President’s Day – Celebrating Lincoln and Liberty at Ford’s Theatre

Hurrah for the choice of the nation!  Our chieftan so brave and so true;
We’ll go for the great Reformation — For Lincoln and liberty too!

“Lincoln and Liberty,” 1860

Washington Revels Heritage Voices at Ford's Theatre
Alden Michels leads "The Vacant Chair" as Washington Revels Heritage Voices and the Roustabout Old Time String Band perform at Ford's Theatre. Photo by Terry Winslow.

The echoes of this campaign song, made famous by songster and abolitionist Jessie Hutchinson, rang the rafters as the Washington Revels Heritage Voices and the Roustabout Old Time String Band helped celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday Open House at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC on February 12. The Heritage Voices appeared as part of a daylong celebration honoring the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and the grand opening of the Theatre’s new Center for Education and Leadership, slated to open later this month.

It was the experience of a lifetime.

Being able to sing this historic and poignant music while reading the words of men and women who lived during the Civil War is one thing, but presenting it in a place so imbued with Abraham Lincoln’s presenceand the history of that fateful night in April 1865is another.

Heritage Voices performing at Ford's Theatre
Heritage Voices (Jim Harkless, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Gregory McGruder, and Helen Fields pictured in the foreground) perform "The President's Hymn" at Ford's Theatre. Photo by Terry Winslow.

Over this past yearbeginning with performances in the Fall of 2010 and a CD recording featuring music of the American Civil War, “Hard Times Come Again No MoreWashington Revels Heritage Voices have performed in many historic sites throughout the metropolitan Washington area.  The group presents a wide variety of music from the era, including African American traditional music and spirituals, as well as narration and readings from primary source materials dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

“Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war.”
— Union General Philip Sheridan

Reaching for Peace

Washington Revels Jubilee Voices sing at Temple Shalom
Washington Revels Jubilee Voices sing at Temple Shalom as part of their annual MLK Commemoration Service. Photo by Elizabeth Miller

Friday the 13th is a date that’s usually reserved for pessimism and superstition.  Nothing could be further from the truth on Friday evening, January 13, when the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices shared in a warm, inspiring commemoration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This community tradition, was held at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a diverse congregation that prides itself on its rich musical traditions and “music that makes community.”  The temple’s reknowned cantor, Lisa Levine, a dynamic composer, musician and vocalist, led the Jubilee Voices, the Wilson High School Choir, members of the TAP Camp of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Washington, DC, and the temple’s youth choir, adult choir and band in the world-beat style “Soulful Shabbat Ruach.”

Soulful Shabbat Ruach (CD recording featuring the music of Cantor Lisa Levine of Temple Shalom)
Soulful Shabbat Ruach (CD recording featuring the music of Cantor Lisa Levine of Temple Shalom)

The guest artists were also invited to share songs from their own repertoire.  The lyrics of one of the songs we performed, “Welcome Table,”  promises, “I’m gonna eat at the welcome table, some of these days.” This spiritual, like many others, moved from its traditional, church-based roots to become one of the famous “Freedom Songs” of the Civil Rights Movement. Sung at sit-ins, during marches, and often, as protestors were led to jail, these songs spread the message of the movement and its people. The enthusiastic audience at Temple Shalom sang along, continuing the tradition!

Our friendship with Cantor Lisa began early last year, just after recording the Washington Revels CD, Hard Times Come Again No More: American Music of the Civil War Era, produced by recording engineer Charlie Pilzer at Airshow Mastering.  Cantor Lisa, who was recording Soulful Shabbat Ruach at Airshow, was seeking gospel singers to sing on two songs on the album.  Charlie played the Jubilee Voices cuts from Hard Times for Cantor Lisa, and the rest was history, culminating last May when members of Jubilee Voices joined forces with Cantor Levine and the Temple Shalom choirs and bands to celebrate the release of Cantor Lisa’s CD last May.

Cantor Lisa’s lyrics for “Reaching for Peace,” one of the songs on Soulful Shabbat Ruach, sums up the life of Dr. King and gives us the charge for continuing his important work:

“Reaching for peace in our lives,  reaching for peace in our community,
Reaching for peace all around the world,  And let us say, ‘Amen! ‘”