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Students join diverse ensemble to sing freedom's praises

| Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, 3:51 a.m.
Herbert V. R. P. Jones, director of the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir, conducts a combined choir of his singers and area high school students during the seventh annual 'Let Freedom Sing!' event at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District on Saturday evening.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Herbert V. R. P. Jones, director of the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir, conducts a combined choir of his singers and area high school students during the seventh annual 'Let Freedom Sing!' event at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District on Saturday evening.

The seventh annual “Let Freedom Sing!” brought together urban and suburban choirs spanning all ages to honor the vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Students from McKeesport Area, Norwin, Franklin Regional, Wilkinsburg and Sister Thea Bowman Catholic high schools celebrated their unity and diversity by sharing songs of faith and love with the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District on Saturday.

The concert first was perfrormed in 2008 to bridge Pittsburgh's neighborhoods and suburbs with the universal language of music. Children from a spectrum of races and social backgrounds joined seasoned singers to sing gospel selections with lively spirit.

“They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. It has taken all of us — the villagers — to raise the child known as ‘Let Freedom Sing,'” Pittsburgh Gospel Choir director Herbert V. R. P. Jones said. “It is for the vision and dream of one man that we celebrate this weekend. We don't want to keep the dream alive, because when you dream you are asleep. We want to take the dream and make it alive.”

Dedicated to King's life and his role in the civil rights movement, this year's “Let Freedom Sing!” focused on quashing hate with the power of love.

Award-winning, Pittsburgh-based artist Vanessa German shared excerpts from King's historic speeches and reflected on their meaning today.

German described love as an overused term that often is disconnected from its true meaning. She encouraged attendees to think about the things that make them truly happy and the gifts they share with others.

Whether someone is a good listener, an excellent cook or a talented musician, sharing those gifts with the community translates to sharing love.

“This evening we sing for love,” German said. “We sing for peace, and oh how we need this peace. We sing for joy. We sing for hope. We sing for you. We sing for the beloved community that is us.”

The Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir, the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir and a combined choir featuring area high school students performed selections such as “If Any Man Be in Christ, He is a New Creature,” “Just Tell Jesus,” “Romans 10:9,” “O Sing Unto the Lord,” “Precious Lord,” “Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land,” “With Strength Not My Own,” and “Make A Joyful Noise Unto the Lord.”

“It's so nice to be making joyful noises with you,” concert co-founder Kris Rust, Franklin Regional's director, told the students. “Each and every one of you play a part in making tonight happen. This community would not be the same if you were not here.”

Norwin seniors Lindsey Dawson and Hannah Minkus said “Let Freedom Sing!” was an amazing event that they wouldn't have traded for a Saturday night anywhere else.

“I've never experienced anything like this,” Lindsey said. “It's almost life-changing. It brings hope for the future and strengthens my faith.”

Hannah said the performance was a “good outlet for faith.”

“All of the kids were really getting into it,” Pittsburgh Gospel Choir member Tracey Gibson of Wilkinsburg said. “They were very positive, and anxious to be a part of this.”

McKeesport Area senior Angel Redwood, junior Libby Baldinger and sophomore Felicia McBride said the program is more lively and uplifting than a standard high school concert.

“It means so much more to people,” Libby said. “It's to a higher emotion. It's deeper. It touches people.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto described the city as a beautiful and eclectic community. He said students and adults from different backgrounds coming together to celebrate a common message is something that would have made King proud.

Peduto said a simple Google search will yield a collection King's quotes, which he said are more than words.

“Those tidbits are the fabric of life,” he said. “He spoke in common sense, but every word was based in courage.”

King pushed the Civil Rights movement forward, winning over hearts and minds by compelling people to do what is right, Peduto said.

The Pittsburgh community continues to bring King's dream to life, German said.

“We are going to be OK as long as we keep dreaming and loving and moving forward,” she said.

“Let Freedom Sing!” will have a second, slightly varied performance Monday at 7 p.m. at Norwin High School, 251 McMahon Drive, North Huntingdon Township. In place of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir, the Norwin concert will feature Jim Donovan, formerly of Rusted Root, and the St. Francis World Drumming Ensemble.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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