"I Still Believe," the third annual choral tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., marked his birthday in exultant fashion Monday night at the Kennedy Center, where many voices celebrated King's commitment to equality, justice and peace. The Choral Arts Society of Washington, choirs from Howard University and Eleanor Roosevelt High School and 30 singers from the Moye Ensemble performed individual sets before joining forces to become nearly 400 strong in the grand finale, which was capped by an audience sing-along of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" and a symbolic joining of hands by group leaders Norman Scribner, J. Weldon Norris, Barbara Baker and Ulysses Moye II as they acknowledged the applause.
The Choral Arts Society established the program's theme with splendid accounts of Handel's "Let Their Celestial Concerts All Unite" and the "Dona Nobis Pacem" from Bach's B-Minor Mass. A brief sampling of black music styles, such as the spiritual, work song and "Alleluia" excerpted from composer Ulysses Kay's "Choral Triptych," was offered by the Howard University Choir. The males grunted their way through "I Got a Mule," bowing as they hit the last "Huh!" On "Rock-a-My-Soul" electric bass, conga drums and trap set gave a punchy backing to the full chorus. The Moye Ensemble used a similar lineup to drive home the message behind "In the Name of Jesus."
Given the looming deadline in the Persian Gulf, the Eleanor Roosevelt High Concert Choir struck the most resounding note with its version of "Gonna Study War No More." It didn't take an ornithologist to tell from the resounding applause that this audience was more dove than hawk.