Before he became a civil-rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist reverend. And he was deeply inspired by gospel music. And appropriately, from the start, Let Freedom Sing, Pittsburgh’s annual concert for King’s birthday, has focused on classic and contemporary spirituals.
But that’s never been all it does. This year, the choir performances anchoring the two Let Freedom Sing concerts are complemented by sets by two local hip-hop/soul artists from 1Hood Media, Jacquea Mae and Vic Muthama.
Let Freedom Sing co-founder Herbert Jones said the line-up is about involving artists who represent as much of the community as possible. “We invite them so we have a varied program, so they get both sacred and secular – jazz, blues, gospel, rock, anthems, the whole nine yards,” he said.
The free concerts are Saturday, at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, in the Hill District, and Monday, at Woodland Hills High School.
In keeping with its original mission, Let Freedom Sing also continues to bring together artists representing both Pittsburgh and its suburbs. Jones’ own Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh will be joined on stage by The Lemington Chorale and choirs from Avonworth High School, Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Ebenezer Baptist, Temple Sinai, the Unitarian Universalist Churches of Greater Pittsburgh, and Woodland Hills High.
Expect the roof to be raised. The concerts regularly draw hundreds, and Jones said that with all eight choirs singing, the voices on stage might number 150 or more. (The Heritage chorale alone includes about 50 members.)
The program includes standards like “Over My Head” alongside contemporary numbers like Keith Hampton’s “True Light.” The choirs will be accompanied live by a five-piece band.
Jones said Mae and Muthama will perform original work.
This year’s Let Freedom Sing is the 13th annual. Jones said he and co-founders Vanessa German and Kris Rust, of the Unitarian Universalist Churches, meant the first iteration, in 2008, to be a one-timer. But turnout was good enough that they kept it going.
Jones credited the event’s ecumenical spirit, which he called “that whole concept of celebrating community, upholding the philosophies and the theologies and the social thoughts that Dr. King had, to celebrate people for who they are and to celebrate cultures and to celebrate diversity.”
Attendees can make voluntary donations to support Let Freedom Sing and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. More information is here.