Metro Divas to perform at Kennedy Center

By day, the redhead cleans Metrorail cars at the Brentwood facility. Another employee works as an office administrator in the operations department.

Then there’s the 32-year veteran who is a clerk in systems maintenance. And the administrative assistant from public relations.

They have different jobs at the region’s transit authority, but when they come together on stage, the four vocalists perform as the Metro Divas. On Tuesday, they are scheduled to appear at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, a daily offering of free events. The Divas have spent a month practicing together, for two hours one night a week after their day jobs.

“My palms are a little sweaty,” said Monic Morgan of Upper Marlboro, after seeing posters at Metro’s Judiciary Square headquarters promoting the event.

“Since Metro is tagged on the front of our group’s name we have to present ourselves well,” she said. “We are representing the agency.”

Morgan’s fellow divas include Angela Gordon of Upper Marlboro, the preacher’s daughter who works in public relations; Marilyn Ashford-Brown of Glenn Dale, the veteran employee who works as a clerk; and Barbara Green of the District, who has cleaned rail cars for 20 years.

The ladies didn’t know one another well until they were selected to form a group by Michael McBride, the manager of MetroArts, the agency’s Art in Transit Program. McBride saw each of them perform individually last August at a Metro talent show and chose them from 15 acts.

“These four ladies stood out,” he said. “People were dancing and clapping. They are talented, and they represent the agency well. They needed to have a venue to share their talents with more people.”

McBride said the Metro Divas represent another side of the transit agency, which is often in the public eye for its faulty escalators, safety problems and perennial repair work. “They help to humanize Metro,” he said. “People take Metro every day. They think of Metro as a service with trains and buses, but our staff have another dimension to their lives. The more you know about people, the more sensitive you are.”

All of the Divas say they have been singing in church choirs, family groups or bands since they were young girls. Ashford-Brown has cut five CDs and performed in Spain. Each said they would like to someday perform full time, but for now they are satisfied with their day jobs.

“You see how so many places are doing away with the arts, so to work at a place that’s passionate about it makes you feel so privileged every day,” Gordon said.

The ladies pay for their makeup, performance outfits and any other expenses. Metro does not pay anything, officials said.

But their co-workers have encouraged them, jokingly calling them “the Songbirds.” Many are planning to come out to support them Tuesday.

“My boss will turn down his radio just a little bit so he can hear me when I’m singing to myself,” Ashford-Brown said.

At the Kennedy Center, the Divas plan to perform jazz, R&B, gospel and big-band songs with a group of musicians known as the Mass Transit Band, who also work for the transit authority.

Having the Metro name attached to their work increases the pressure, the Divas said.

“It’s a name that’s known all over the world,” Gordon said. “You feel a responsibility to carry a polished image and to make the authority proud that you represent the organization.”

Some members of the group worried that the name Metro Divas would be a negative, but they forged ahead, putting their own spin on it.

Plus, Green said, half-joking, “Take a look at us. We’re beautiful.”

I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
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