The message was in the music Saturday night at the First Congregational Church, as the locally based a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock hosted "A Musical Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." Accompanying Sweet Honey was In Process, and the groups performed separately and together, opening the program with a series of traditional spirituals so that, in the words of Sweet Honey founder Bernice Johnson Reagon, "we won't forget where we came from."
After the spine-tingling beauty of "Servant Prayer Man" and the quiet dignity of "Walk Around Zion," Sweet Honey was backed by In Process for "Letter to Martin," a vocalization of a poem by Sonia Sanchez. A generous portion of the program was given to In Process, which did just fine on its own, especially in a number dedicated to the memory of former Mozambique leader Samora Machel.
The Original Freedom Singers, four vocalists who communicated the messages of the civil rights movement during the 1960s, still sing with dignity and fire. They offered several stirring numbers, including "Freedom Train" and an R&B-rooted song that was the result of a jail term served in Charleston, Miss. The only complaint of the night might have been that occasionally the well-deserved thunderous applause drowned out even these strong voices. The concert was filmed for use in a documentary on the song "We Shall Overcome," and sure enough, that was the night's most moving number. Longtime musician-activist Pete Seeger joined the Freedom Singers, Sweet Honey and In Process on stage. The entire audience joined in, holding hands, bodies swaying, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Within the walls of this church, at least, the message was embraced.
Proceeds from Saturday night's show were to be donated to community-based organizations TransAfrica and Terrific's Grandma's House.