Hidden from small

A Tribute to Dr. King—Music and the Heart of a Community

January 08, 2015

From its free Neighborhood Concerts to its PlayINs, its teaching, its partnerships with civic and cultural groups all over the Delaware Valley, and of course its concerts in Verizon Hall, The Philadelphia Orchestra is a vital, living, breathing part of its community. Perhaps no one event better illustrates that role than the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert, this year on January 19 at Girard College, the epicenter of Global Citizen’s Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service.

“For 25 years The Philadelphia Orchestra has been honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with our Tribute Concert, and it is always a highlight of our season,” says Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore. “Dr. King’s dream of a society where all men are created equal continues to inspire, and we are proud to contribute to his legacy by demonstrating the unifying power of music in the community.”

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin wholeheartedly agrees: “Music allows us to dream and aspire to achieve those dreams, so what better way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream continues to inspire all of us. When the Orchestra and our special guests perform for the Day of Service volunteers and audience members, together, all of us will be sharing his hope for a better world.”

The Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service is the largest King Day event in the U.S. and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Thanks to its volunteers, tens of thousands of Delaware Valley residents receive vital help they wouldn’t otherwise get. The event is organized by Global Citizen, a non-profit dedicated to civic engagement through volunteering, community building, service education, economic opportunity, leadership development, dialogue, and education.

The signature Day of Service project at Girard College celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Hundreds of volunteers will be engaged in a series of service projects promoting non-partisan voter participation and empowerment.

Girard College is an apt focal point for the Day of Service. Opened in 1848 thanks to an enormous grant from wealthy Philadelphia philanthropist Stephen Girard, the College’s mission is to educate promising students from single-parent, low-income families. Since its inception, it has graduated over 22,000 young men and women, primarily from Philadelphia. 

President Clarence Armbrister is proud of the school’s pivotal role in the Day of Service, hosting the thousands of volunteers … AND The Philadelphia Orchestra. He says their decision to perform a second straight concert at Girard is a great compliment to the College, especially in such a significant year. Not only is 2015 the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement, but it’s also the 50th anniversary of the protests that led to Girard College being opened to African-Americans, protests invigorated in August 1965 by the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (In his office Armbrister displays a pair of photographs: one of Dr. King standing outside Girard’s walls during the protests, and one taken three years later, as the first young black students entered the College.)

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert at the Girard College Chapel in 2014. Photo: Jeff Fusco

The 90-minute concert is steeped in the meaning of the 50th anniversaries. It features the world premiere performance of the first movement of Hannibal’s One River, One Land, One People (a work commissioned by the Orchestra; it will be performed in its entirety this November). Guest vocalists Laquita Mitchell and Rodrick Dixon are featured, joined by choirs from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. They’ll also sing an a capella version of “Ezekiel Saw de Wheel.” In tribute to Dr. King, regular Orchestra collaborator Charlotte Blake Alston will read the “I Have a Dream” speech, set to Samuel Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings. The concert concludes with “Total Praise,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the stirring anthem of the civil rights movement, and a fitting summation of this concert:

“Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring. Ring with the harmonies of liberty ...”

Tickets to the concert are free but are required, and can be obtained here.