The community is invited to attend the inaugural "Musical Celebration of Freedom" event in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and featuring the sounds of SoulAviv, the Shir Chadash Choirs and the Unity Gospel Choir of Los Angeles beginning at 7:30 p.m. this Friday at Congregation B’nai B’rith.
“This is going to be an evening of thoughtful introspection, deep spirituality and joyous celebration,” said Rob Raede, who is the musical mastermind behind the event.
As a trained guitarist, singer/songwriter and admirer of Martin Luther King Jr., Raede created the melodious tribute as a way to honor the former civil rights leader in an engaging and celebratory manner.
This free event is open to community members of all faiths and involves several local religious leaders. The Rev. Wallace Shepherd, pastor of Santa Barbara’s Second Baptist Church, will deliver the sermon, while the Rev. Dr. Hillary Chrisly, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, will provide the ending benediction and Rabbi Stephen Cohen of Congregation B’nai B’rith will lead the congregation in prayer.
“It is almost overwhelming to think that all of the above will join together in our sanctuary in the name of justice and freedom and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Cantor Mark Childs, who will be playing guitar while leading his adult and youth choirs in celebratory song. “As a Jew, to celebrate the life and message of Dr. King is a natural impulse as I consider him to be a prophet in the great tradition of the Hebrew Bible. As did Amos, Isaiah, Hosea and Jeremiah before him, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out vehemently against injustice and challenged the powers that be. With his words and his deeds, he moved people towards change.”
Participants will certainly be moved at the upcoming event, both spirituality and physically. In fact, if they are simply sitting still, then Raede jokes, “We’ve done something wrong.”
Raede, who for the past seven years has been the music director of the Jewish spiritual vocal group SoulAviv, has written some new songs and arrangements for this event. Named as one of the top 12 Jewish music groups in the world, SoulAviv is equally at ease singing in English, Hebrew and even Yiddish. The band’s music is infused with the sounds of Motown, gospel, Memphis soul and a particular love for the great harmony groups of the 1960s and '70s. SoulAviv celebrated Martin Luther King Day two years ago in Atlanta, singing with the choir from Dr. King’s spiritual home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“It was an incredible experience we hope to replicate to some degree in Santa Barbara,” said Raede, whose quartet includes singers Liat Wasserman, Jamie Green and Roxanne Morganstern, all Santa Barbara residents.
The Los Angeles-based Unity Gospel Choir will bring their own blend of foot-stomping, hand-clapping, soul-stirring gospel songs to life as they join the celebration. The high-energy choir, who perform under the direction of Russell Jackson, are a group of friends who are professional singers and musicians who joined forces to lift their voices and talents in inspiring gospel melodies.
In addition to the musical tributes, participants will hear an inspired sermon by the Rev. Shepherd, who has served as pastor at Second Baptist Church in Santa Barbara for the past seven years. Within this time, he has re-established Santa Barbara’s Martin Luther King Day event as a capstone celebration in our community. Rabbi Cohen has served as the senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai B’rith for nearly 10 years, and he will lead the congregation in communal prayer. First United Methodist Church’s the Rev. Chrisley will end the evening with a benediction.
“Wherever you are on your journey of faith, all are welcome at Congregation B’nai B’rith to participate in this joyous celebration,” Rabbi Cohen said.
This year’s celebration is particularly poignant as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“This supportive, spiritual gathering of people of different religious traditions is exactly the type of celebration that Dr. King would have enjoyed," Raede said. "We are carrying forth his dream to unite people of various backgrounds in a meaningful, spiritual and uplifting way. And I bet Dr. King would have loved the music.”
This event is free and open to the public. Congregation B’nai B’rith is located at 1000 San Antonio Creek Road in Santa Barbara. For more information, call CBB at 805.964.7869.
This event was made possible thanks to the generous contributions of Gary and Ellen Bialis, Roger and Robin Himovitz, Natalie Myerson and Rich Parisse.
— Ann Pieramici is a publicist.