For 12 years now, the Atlanta Music Festival has revived a musical tradition in Atlanta that dates back more than 100 years. The directors of the festival use music and cultural events to share the history, celebrate progress, and shape the future of race relations in America. Today’s event was an outstanding display of these ideas brought to action by engaging 500 of Atlanta’s school children in an historic event.
In 1900, an original song premiered in Jacksonville, Florida in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. “Lift Every Voice And Sing” was first performed by 500 local school children, and its success was more than anyone could have anticipated. The song’s author, James Weldon Johnson along with his brother John Rosamund Johnson, who wrote the music, saw their song quickly spread, eventually becoming the anthem for NAACP in 1921. The beautiful verse and uplifting message resonated with so many involved in changing civil rights in America.
Today, the directors of Atlanta Music Festival recreated that premier at Ebenezer Baptist Church with 500 of Atlanta’s school children singing this historic anthem in their new sanctuary. For this special event, the church’s regular piano was not ready to lead this chorus, so AMF Music Director Steven Darsey selected a Seiler concert grand piano from PianoWorks. Handcrafted in Kitzingen, Germany, the 9’2” Seiler model SE278CO is among the elite pianos of the world.
To host the event, Atlanta news anchor Brenda Wood shared stories from her family and the role that music played to create opportunities. One of her ancestors was a slave and prohibited from learning to read but was allowed to learn to read music, a skill that became precious. Brenda also introduced other AMF leaders including Artistic Director, Dwight Andrews, Assistant Director of James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory, Kali-Ahset Amen, Tenor for Atlanta Opera, Timothy Miller, and pianist & Brenau professor, Ben Leaptrott.
After stories, history, and a wonderful solo from Timothy Miller, it was time for the children to rise and sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The chorus of 500 children brought smiles and a few tears to the rest of us in the room.
PianoWorks would like to thank all of this program’s organizers for creating and executing such an impactful event. It is an honor to be a small part of this lasting memory for 500 of Atlanta’s future citizens.
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