Posted by: Ted D. Davis
The late Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was a Baptist minister and one of the South’s most prominent Civil Rights leaders who cofounded the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Committee, whose aim was to advance the cause of Civil Rights in America by nonviolent means), formed the “Big Three” of Civil Rights leaders with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, was an organizer of the 1965 March on Selma, and founded the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation which provided grants for home ownership.
Dr. Henry Panion is a producer, composer, arranger, and orchestrator, whose work with legends Stevie Wonder, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and Aretha Franklin among others, and orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the Orchestra of Paris, and the Boston Pops have earned two Grammy awards, two Dove awards, and a host of other awards and nominations.
The spirit of these two African American innovators and community leaders come together on November 19, 2016 at historic Lyric Theater (1800 3rd Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama. Call (205) 252-2262 and see their website at www.lyrictheatre.com) in the 24th Anniversary Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award Celebration, honoring Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Panion will produce the gala, having designed a showcase of Alabama artists and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.
MCR spoke with the incredibly busy Dr. Panion ahead of the event to get a sense of the significance of music in the production.
MCR: What is your role in the event?
HP: “I’m the producer of the gala, and I’m doing my best to design the highest quality, most entertaining, and most inspiring showcase of songs and dances that identify with the historical Civil Rights Movement such as human and civil liberties, love, and the process of healing”.
MCR: How is the theme of the movement addressed in the performances that the audience will see and hear?
HP: “I’ve arranged for the orchestra and featured artists classic songs ranging from gospel standards such as ‘This Train’ and ‘Precious Lord’ to classics such as Stevie Wonders ‘Love is in Need’ and Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’”.
MCR: Who will perform?
HP: “Featured artists include Eric Essix, Ruben Studdard, Belinda George Peoples, and the Birmingham Sunlights, with the cast including the M.A.D. Skillz Dancers, Michael J. Watkins of Faith Apostolic Church, Valerie Smith of Mount Canaan Full Gospel Church, Marquita Anthony of Church of the Highlands, spoken word artist Sharrif Simmons, and the Miles College Choir, backed by Alabama’s best orchestral musicians”.
MCR: The Lyric, originally opened in 1914, was designed to maximize acoustics and close seating needed for vaudeville shows. After decades of being closed and decay, renovations include two levels of 750 seats, opera boxes, and architecture that resembles the bell of a trumpet. What if any advantage does those advances lend to gospel performance?
HP: “It’s a gorgeous theatre! It’s magnificently restored, it’s a marvel of a facility, and the restoration should only amplify voices and dance that are already exceptional”.
MCR: What is Eric Essix’s association with the event? I recently interviewed him, and he mentioned work on a gospel album of his own that he called his best work yet.
HP: “When I heard the album I asked if he would be interested in performing some of its music at this event, and include some of the people who are a part of it. After agreeing to be a part of making it, he made it clear that one of his goals is to include as many Alabamians as possible in the creative process, which matched my vision for its production”.
MCR: Any additional performances?
HP: “The show will close with my arrangement of Stevie Wonders ‘Heaven Help Us All’, which was commissioned by City of Birmingham for its 50th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, which has been featured as a part of the worldwide ‘Dance the Dream’ tributes in places as far reaching as Dubai, London, and Sinapore, and as close as Boston and Houston”.
MCR: Thank you for giving the city of Birmingham this production, for granting us this interview.
HP: “You’re very welcomed”.