There was a lot of buzz surrounding the MLK Memorial Dedication Message in the Music Concert, with a lineup that was rumored to include legends such as Stevie Wonder and Anita Baker performing Civil Rights-era music. It turns out the hype was more ambitious than the actual show.
Most of the musical acts were either kept private or announced the day of the show, which is also when event organizers canceled Sunday’s Dedication ceremony and other weekend events due to the threat of Hurricane Irene.
The show kicked off with Anthony Hamilton backed by the Ray Chew Live band. Anthony’s old-soul vocals and energy definitely complemented the music well.
At this point, ushers asked people in the back of the room to fill the empty seats in the front. Whether because of the weather or ticket prices ($100 or $65), there were lots of empty seats in the large Washington Convention Center hall.
Following Anthony was Naturally 7, a very talented “vocal play” group whose members mimic the sounds of jazz instruments with their voices. They were nothing short of awesome, and prompted excitement over who would come next.
The crowd was back on its feet for Curtis Mayfield’s former group, The Impressions. Since their music was considered to be the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement, they were a good fit for the theme of the show, which was not as strong as it could have been.
The concert was billed as a set of performances of songs from the Civil Rights movement. While some artists did just that, others like India.Arie instead sang songs with inspirational messages of unity and hope.
Decked out in all white with a pop of color in her head wrap, India dedicated her performance to her grandmother who she said passed away in 2009 shortly after President Obama’s inauguration. She told the crowd that her grandmother was at the March on Washington and heard the "I Have a Dream" speech.
"I know she’s watching," India said. She later chuckled and said, "I can imagine my grandmother laughing right now that I’m about to sing in Hebrew." It is a new skill she’s picked up from her musical soul mate Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel, who joined her onstage accompanying on piano in a preview of their collaboration on India’s upcoming album, Open Door. She also played the flute while Idan sang.
India’s second song was "Gift of Acceptance," and she asked the audience to listen closely to the lyrics, which she said capture everything she has ever wanted to say. The crowd gave the duo a standing ovation. We can only hope her fans will be as supportive of the new album.
Eddie Levert hit the stage and re-invigorated the night. He did up-tempo O’Jays tunes "Got to Give the People What They Want" and "Love Train" and wiggled and bopped all over that stage and kept the ladies squealing and dancing along.
Eddie definitely felt like the headliner and easily could have been. But that honor was given to Patti LaBelle. She said she wasn’t dressed up because she was saving her gown for Sunday’s canceled Dedication concert. But she still looked great in all black.
Patti sang a power ballad that she wrote called "Two Steps Away," then she changed pumps and brought the house down with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Just when we thought it was over, she started up again, making the show worth the price of admission. Well, if you bought the cheap seats.
Eddie Levert takes the stage to give the people what they want. Watch.
—Sabrina M. Parker