Twelve students from Thomas G. Pullen Visual and Performing Arts School, and Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles H. Flowers high schools performed at the ceremony, which featured first lady Michelle Obama, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Cicely Tyson, Jennifer Hudson and Willow Smith.
Dawn Ba’th, the choral director, at Thomas G. Pullen school, got a call from the school’s piano chairman, Brandon Felder, late one evening last month asking if she could quickly pull together some students to sing background vocals for Common and Anthony Hamilton on his performance “The Believer.” A Pullen alumni working with the band recommended the school.
Ba’th rallied the students, who had two days to practice before taping the show.
The students, clad in all black, stood on stage behind Common on a dimly lit stage. A young girl shouted: “I am Harriet Tubman and I am a believer.” Later a boy followed: “I am Barack Obama and I’m a believer.” The crowd applauded. The students then swayed back and forth as they sang background.
Ba’th said the students were excited to be a part of the star-studded event. The show honored poet Maya Angelou, musician Stevie Wonder, singer Mariah Carey, filmmaker Spike Lee, members of the Tuskegee Airmen and University of Texas track and field coach Beverly Kearney.
“They were just like deer in the headlights,” Ba’th said of the original reaction of the students, some as young as 11. “But they handled it well.”
Ba’th said on the night of taping, Carey walked passed them and they were extremely excited. “I thought, will they be able to rebound,” Ba’th said with chuckle. “It really was a wonderful experience, an opportunity they will cherish for a lifetime.”
The show originally aired on Feb. 13 and will be replayed Thursday at 10 p.m.