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Northwestern Pays Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Ramsey Lewis highlights campus celebration of the life and legacy of the late civil rights leader

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January 18, 2010 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Video produced by Matt Paolelli and NUAMPS

Listen to a Q&A with Ramsey Lewis during Northwestern's MLK Day celebration

The Ramsey Lewis Trio became a quartet with the addition of Victor Goines, Northwestern's director of jazz studies, in a spectacular jazz medley performed at Pick- Staiger Concert Hall as part of the University's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration 2010.

The improvisations on spirituals popular in African American churches and a Q&A with jazz great Ramsey Lewis Jr., led by Bienen School of Music student Kyle Ashe, highlighted a host of offerings that have been taking place on both campuses in memory of the life and legacy of Dr. King.

On the Chicago campus, the keynote address was delivered by Harriet Washington, the award-winning author of "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present." The theme of the Chicago program was healthcare inequality, and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin and Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn were featured. For more information on the Chicago remembrance of Dr. King, go to: http://www.northwestern.edu/mlk/program-ch.html

One of the nation's most successful jazz pianists, Lewis brought his Grammy Award-winning magic to the music delivered by Northwestern's very own. Goines, one of the country's most admired jazz musicians, thrilled the Pick-Staiger crowd alternately playing the soprano saxophone and the tenor saxophone. And the hymns, spirituals and gospel songs, led by the Northwestern Jazz Ensemble, the Alice Millar Chapel Choir and the Northwestern Community Ensemble, were, as usual, passionate and moving.

During the Q&A, Lewis said that Dr. King made him realize that you can't change something that's wrong by law. "Until it becomes part of a nation's consciousness, both collectively and individually, things will pretty much remain the same."

He reflected upon the important role that certain songs played in Dr. King's work. "Those songs were used across the country and in some places outside the country by those that were sympathetic to our situation," he said.

Music, he said, going back to Africa, has always been integral to the lives of African Americans. "In many African-American homes, at least when I was growing up, music was always on...we needed something to unite us."

Lewis also shared a telling anecdote about "A Proclamation of Hope: A Symphonic Poem." His eight-movement composition was commissioned in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday and premiered at the Ravinia Festival last year.  The last movement of the composition is called 16/44 (the 16th and 44th presidents of the United States).

"On the screen on stage was a black and white, very powerful picture of Abraham Lincoln's head," Lewis said. "And as I started Obama's theme, Lincoln's face started moving off, and a beautiful color photo of Barrack Obama came on...and people started applauding."

Later Lewis realized that it was the pictures of Lincoln and Obama on the same screen that brought tears to people's eyes.

The urgent need in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake was on the minds of more than one speaker. Provost Daniel Linzer demonstrated how simple it is to make a cell phone text message donation to the American Red Cross. Simply text "HAITI" to 90999, and $10 will be donated and billed on your cell phone bill. A list of relief organizations compiled by the Program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies was handed out along with the MLK Day program.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl urged audience members to visit the Web site of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti. The Evanston non-profit has a list of supplies desperately needed in the devastated country. "Stop by the organization's headquarters at 1227 Dodge. You'll meet some awesome people," she added.

Haitian Congress Web site: http://haitiancongress.org/events.htm

Helping Organizations list: http://www.wcas.northwestern.edu/lacs/documents/Helping%20Haiti.pdf

Classes were cancelled on both campuses Monday for a University-wide, full-day observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday of lectures, service opportunities, discussions, films, music and theater. To see full listing of events, go to: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2010/01/mlk.html

The Evanston MLK celebration also included staged readings of Joanna McClelland Glass' "Palmer Park," a play about a Detroit neighborhood's valiant struggles for civil rights. To read a related Q&A with the director of the readings, the theatre department's master storyteller Rives Collins, go to: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2010/01/palmer.html

And the annual Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil at Alice Millar Chapel included a keynote address by Marc Lamont Hill, a leading hip-hop generation intellectual and a nationally-syndicated columnist. Soul 4 Real, a Northwestern student a capella group, and School of Music's Rachel Taylor and Jonathan Bragg were among those who performed. The chapel resounded with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a poem set to music that reflects the extraordinary burdens of the African American experience and hope for the future.
Topics: Campus Life