Writen By: Karen Davis
Fort Wayne, Ind. – The melodious music of Prince and Sir Elton John encapsulated the IPFW Rhinehart Music Center on a recent Saturday evening, as the Voices of Unity Choir led a heartfelt tribute to the two music legends.
Appropriately billed as “An Evening of Nostalgia,” the June 24th tribute concert took the audience on a soulful, hand-clapping trip down memory lane.
The evening began with an introduction of Marshall White, the award-winning choir’s founder and director, by Joe Jordan, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne. Jordan said White should be commended for carrying out his vision of creating an organization that educates, empowers and unites young people.
White took a few minutes to honor choir members who had recently graduated from college and high school, by calling them to the stage. He noted that it is a real challenge to keep kids in school and keep them focused, with all the other activities and influences they have to contend with. Mr. White led the audience in giving the graduates a standing ovation for their academic achievements.
While some graduates opt to leave the Summit City, to attend college or establish new chapters in life, White said: “the best thing we can do is show them how much they’re valued while they’re here in Fort Wayne.”
The program began with a lighthearted skit, featuring Patricia Hunt and Debra Rouse, designed to enlighten the audience about the impact of Prince and Elton John and the numerous contributions they’ve made to the music industry. A video was shown on the life of Prince Rogers Nelson, a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist that died in April 2016, at the age of 57. While the video played, the Unity Band – led by Tyrone Tolbert – played a medley of Prince hits.
Next, GorDon Martin took the stage, got on the piano and led the choir as the soloist on an amazing version of Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.” The SheeKriStyle Academy of Dance Arts Alliance dancers performed during the song.
The evening continued with soloist Chet Chambers taking to the piano, as the soloist on Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” followed by “Daniel.”
Stefan Phillips served as the soloist on Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and John Swain was the lead solo, accompanied by dancers, on Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” – both of which got the audience out of their seats and clapping to the music.
John’s history was presented in a monologue by Jordan Bridges and Aspen Hill; a Prince monologue was presented by Ani King.
Next, Mr. White introduced the White sisters, a group of extremely talented Fort Wayne sisters who followed their dream of singing background for Prince, and did so for several years. Their group, Milenia includes Mikki, Malikah, Niyoki and Tia White. After Mr. White paid homage to their parents, who were in the audience, the sisters were joined by Swain on guitar, as they sang their rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
The audience joined the choir in providing background vocals and swaying back and forth to the popular Prince tune, as the White sisters provided soul-stirring harmonies.
Just before intermission, White called all of the new choir members to the front of the stage. About 16 members stepped forward, indicating that they had joined the choir within the last six to eight months.
As a testament to the fact that choir members lives – and the lives of their families – have been impacted by their affiliation with Unity choir, the five-member Colin family took the stage and explained how Unity has affected their lives. The son explained that his school grades have gone up. The teenage daughter explained that she now has a relationship with her Dad, whom she previously never spoke to. Onstage, she shared a hug with her Dad.
White recalled a comment that Maya Angelou made, as told to Oprah Winfrey. Angelou believed that the legacy we leave is not based on the amount of money we have or the material things we possess, but rather “Your legacy is every life you touch… every moment you are building your legacy.”
Unity staff, led by Niyoki Chapman, invited the audience to make a “one-click” contribution to the Voices of Unity, by using their smart phones; the contributions would immediately show up on the big screen, at center stage. As the audience gave the new technology a try, contributions of $100 or more popped up in real time. By the end of the show, the audience had pledged more than $2000 to UNITY.
After intermission, the performances included Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” led by GorDon Martin, along with dancers; Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls,” featuring soloists Stefan Phillips and VOU member Aryanna Swopshire; and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” featuring soloist Evan Stuerzenberger.
Next, Martin and Chambers teamed up to lead a rousing rendition of John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and Stuerzenberger joined VOU member Cydney Bridges, along with dancers, in leading a crowd-pleasing rendition of Prince’s “1999.”
Voices of Unity choir made history by embarking on a three-country, nine-city European tour last July 2016. That tour enabled the choir to sing during an entire Mass at the Vatican. Prior to that, Voices of Unity gained international acclaim in 2010 when they earned the Grand Champion title at the World Choir Games in China. Since then, the choir has “brought home the gold” at the 2014 World Choir Games in Riga, Latvia, and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The Voices of Unity’s next concert is their uplifting Praise Celebration on Sunday, January 7, 2018 at the IPFW Rhinehart Music Center.