Montage for Martin

CW Yolanda.jpg
My wife’s mother got involved in civil rights issues early and through her job as a research librarian at Shoreline Community College she helped minorities advance academically. After being widowed she married Bob Kelley, a former LIFE magazine photographer, who took some famous photographs from the Washington Monument facing down on the large crowd as Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his rousing “I Have A Dream” speech.

So it is fitting that I sat with my wife and two daughters as our eldest daughter sang in the “Montage for Martin” concert last night at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. Music by Ja A. Jahannes and Stephen Michael Newby was performed inspirationally by The Montage Community Choir with impassioned narration touchingly rendered by Yolanda King (photo above). All the solos were superb, but two brought the house down: Brenda Wimberly’s “I Can’t Sit By,” and Gregory Broughton’s “Never Turn Back.” James Caddell’s “When You Have Done the Best (That You Can Do)” was performed tenderly, evocatively and almost pleadingly while vintage footage highlighting MLK Jrs. triumphant, tragic sojourn was projected on an overhead screen. Yolanda King quietly watched scenes of her father’s funeral, remembering the sorrow of a young daughter while bravely extending his legacy through her delivery of the rich language in this homage to her slain father.

If one purpose of art is to evoke response, Newby and company hit pay-dirt with me. I could not stop weeping. King’s legacy was forged in the late fifty’s and sixties, years I remember and in many ways, I discovered last night, feel wistful about. Talking over nachos after the concert Jessica, our daughter who sang last night, observed that if my introspection was any indication, the concert was a success because it triggered thought and discussion.

A young Christian in those days, I remember how the chaos and upheaval of those years found ballast and a firm foundation in King’s language, drawn as it was from Old Testament Prophets and the gospel of Jesus. His was not a politically rooted movement with a superficial religious overlay; it was a spiritual movement, a moral reckoning with political consequences.

His voice transcended specific issues it called each of us to account for our ways and to invest our lives in things that matter. Part of my sorrowful reaction to the montage can be explained by how last nights’ experience caused me to review of my own life: have I done my best? Have I “stood by” instead of addressing injustices?

Last night also reminded me that making good art does not guarantee an audience. This event should have been packed and wasn’t; yet the artists gave it their best anyway. Religious conservatives have often not embraced issues of racism and civil rights and some question the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., even questioning the holiday in his honor. All I can say is that while they are diverted from an issue at the heart of God, King’s spiritual lineage was making good art last night at Benaroya Hall.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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