The great Duke Ellington said: “You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.” Music is perhaps the perfect medium to communicate a message that would otherwise be misunderstood, or incorrectly conveyed, had it been simply stated with just words. Adding a melody has a way of pulling at the heartstrings and awakens deeper feelings and emotions. The genres of blues and jazz are known for their ability to make one feel. On Saturday June 27, 2015 The Voices of Unity Youth Choir’s (VOU) production of “Let the Good Times Roll: A Tribute to the Legends of Blues and Jazz,” not only presented a powerful message to the Fort Wayne community, it most certainly made the audience feel. As the choir’s name indicates, the music performed in Saturday’s double-feature performance concert, which took place at the Arts United Building in the heart of downtown Fort Wayne, projected a clear message of unity. In a time when racial tension is continuously growing in our nation, people from all walks of life came together to enjoy timeless music which spans decades and reaches many generations of music lovers. The genres of blues and jazz are both true American art forms, developed from the experiences of Black Americans in this country. These art forms came about during a time, not very long ago, when the nation was segregated based on skin color. It felt like a symbolic experience to witness the power of this music bring people together this weekend, considering the history of this music, the racial climate in which it emerged, and the racial climate of today. It was a rejuvenating breath of fresh air amidst the heavy smog of America’s most recent current events. The Voices of Unity shined like the bright stars they are, in what many consider current dark times. The Voices of Unity Youth Choir is a world-champion, first-class organization, and it was vividly apparent from the beginning of this concert, to the very end. Every detail, from the visual effects and videos, dancers choreographed by VOU alumnus, Dominique Evans, live big band orchestra led by Fort Wayne native Lance Tolbert (who currently travels with the likes of Mariah Carey) and Derek Reeves, principal violist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the costumes and the overall sound quality, all represented the organization’s standard of “excellence and nothing less.” The audience was not only given a musical treat, but was given a history lesson throughout the show, as Voices of Unity Director, Founder and CEO, Marshall White, gave the historical background of each song and artist/musician. The show featured the music of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Dorothy Dandridge, George Benson and Duke Ellington. Marshall White masterfully created the choral arrangements for each of the familiar blues and jazz standards, which beautifully highlighted the impressive vocal maturity and ability of the young people in the Voices of Unity Youth Choir. Many jazz tunes are known for their complexity, however, the Voices of Unity provided convincing performances with each song. Standout solo performances came from some of the city’s premier vocalists, as well as phenomenal vocal talent from surrounding cities. Fort Wayne native, recording artist Mikki (White) Curry gave a euphoric vocal performance as the lead on the show’s title tune, “Let the Good Times Roll,” as sung by Three Mo’ Tenors. It was the perfect beginning to this musical journey through time. Booker Person, of Chicago, Illinois soulfully sang Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” Indianapolis native, Pam Westbrook swung to the tune of “It Don’t Mean of Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Her sultry and soulful voice was a seamless lead into the vocal talent of recent Bishop Luers High School graduate, VOU member Jocelyn Redmond, who smoothly and effortlessly regaled the audience with another Ella Fitzgerald song, “Take the A Train.” Dwight Wilson, a very familiar face in the Fort Wayne arts community, channeled his inner Cab Calloway, complete with white top hat and tailcoat, and made the audience believe Cab had come back to life as he led the choir in “Minnie the Moocher.” The choir donned white gloves and moved along and sang the familiar phrase “hi-de-ho!” VOU singing mentor, June McCullough, gave a light and airy performance of The Divine Sarah Vaughan’s “Broken Hearted Melody.” A concert paying homage to the legends of blues and jazz would not be complete without the music of the late, legendary B.B. King. Once again, Booker Person belted “The Thrill Is Gone,” with a spellbinding guitar solo by Unity’s newest band member, Jon Swain. Mikki Curry was joined by nationally recognized blues artist, Tad Robinson on “Sweet Home Chicago,” as they closed the first half of the concert. Robinson combined his stellar voice with his amazing harmonica skills. The second half of the concert began with the popular Z.Z. Hill blues classic, “Down Home Blues,” led, again, by Tad Robinson and Booker Person. This time, the two were joined with Mitch Morgan on harmonica. Morgan took us “down home,” with his gritty, authentic musicianship. Pam Westbrook graced the stage, once again, for the widely known Gershwin jazz duet, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” with Fort Wayne’s own, GorDon Martin. Martin showcased the remarkable ability to change his voice to sound like the great Louis Armstrong. He then switched from Armstrong to an equally believable Ray Charles, as he sang “Hit the Road Jack.” The concert took a delightful turn with a medley of songs paying tribute to the ladies of jazz. Fourteen year-old Brooke Person (daughter of Booker Person) took the stage as Etta James, complete with platinum blonde wig, dynamic costume and a powerful voice to match. She obviously studied the mannerisms of the late Etta James, and she delivered a rousing performance. Patricia Hunt elegantly adorned the stage in the person of Ethel Waters as she sang “Stormy Weather,” followed by Jessica White as Billie Holiday, with her rendition of the classic “God Bless the Child.” The medley ended with Dorothy Dandridge’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” led by VOU alumna Deondra Bender. Bender, with her magical voice, was joined by two UNITY Dancers who personified the world-famous Nicholas Brothers. The costumes and dance moves stayed true to the original 1941 sequence. After having gone on a journey through time, the show ended with the music of modern jazz greats, George Benson and Al Jarreau with the tunes “Summer Breeze” led by Fort Wayne native Brian Kelly and Dwight Wilson. The show ended on just as high of a note as it started, with “On Broadway.” Jon Swain was featured again, this time, scatting and playing guitar in the fashion of the musical genius, George Benson. As if the musical production was not enough to excite the audience, Marshall White made the public announcement that the choir, who performed in Carnegie Hall and in the 2014 World Choir Games in Riga, Latvia last year, has been invited to participate in the Meeting Music International Choir Festival and Competition with a four country European Tour including the cities of Rome, Italy, Vatican City, Venice, Italy, Graz, Austria and Budapest, Hungary July 1-13, 2016. Fort Wayne truly has something to be proud of, in the form of The Voices of Unity Youth Choir. The apparent hard work of all those involved in this production was witnessed in full magnitude on Saturday. The Voices of Unity continues to enhance the value of this city. VOU wants to know, did you attend the show? If so, what were your thoughts? Please share your concert comments with the youth by visiting their website www.upaf.com and by posting on their Facebook Fan Page, Voices of Unity USA Choir Olympic Team.
Check out our gallery of photos below.