Tonight: 'Let Freedom Sing' concert to pay tribute to MLK, celebrate diversity in Pittsburgh

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It's like a dream coming true.

About 200 voices -- including jazz singer and Murrysville native Carolyn Perteete -- will take part in the sixth annual "Let Freedom Sing" concert at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville.

The concert, part of a weekend-long celebration of the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., features the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir with combined high school and church choirs from the city and the suburbs.

"It's been great!" co-founder Kris Rust said this afternoon as he and his crew of volunteers set up the stage for tonight's show. "We had the largest turnout for the Saturday concert ever, and hopefully we'll have another big turnout tonight."

Mr. Rust, the director of choirs at Franklin Regional, started the concert series in 2007 with the Rev. Herbert V.R.P. Jones, national officer of the Gospel Music Workshops of America. At the time, Rev. Jones said the concerts have two goals: "Celebrate the legacy of and pay tribute to Martin Luther King and celebrate the diversity of the [urban and suburban] communities."

"I started these concerts because our country and our region is such a segregated place," Mr. Rust said. "We're segregated along ethnic lines and along class lines. I live in the city and teach in the suburbs, and I see that disconnect.

"This music -- African-American music in general and Gospel music in particular -- is such a rich musical tradition. I wanted my students to have more exposure to it. And it's been a very rewarding experience for everyone involved."

Here's the skinny on The Pittsburgh Gospel Choir: "Under the direction of Dr. Jones, [it] is acclaimed for its inspirational performances of American Gospel music throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through its engagement of singers of all ages, races, and ethnicities, the choir serves and cultivates diverse choir membership and audiences by infusing an appreciation of Gospel music, including new works and arrangements. Founded in 2007 as a project of The River City Brass Band, The Pittsburgh Gospel Choir was the first regional ensemble dedicated to the genre."

So, you take that musical force, and combine it with the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir, the Franklin Regional High School Chorus, the Greater Pittsburgh Unitarian Universalist Church Choirs, the McKeesport High School Choir, the Norwin High School Choir, the Wilkinsburg High School Choir and other singers from the community.

Then hang on!

"These choirs are made up of people who are not in the arts as a profession, but they continue to sing in choirs and stay involved that way," Mr. Rust said. "It lets these kids see that music can always be a rich and rewarding part of their whole lives. We'll have people performing tonight on the stage alongside ninth-graders, which is really wonderful."

Ms. Perteete, a fixture in the local jazz scene, adds solo moments to the evening.

"And we have Vanessa German, a poet and performing artist, who is our orator," Mr. Rust said. "She weaves the program together with spoken word.

"The whole idea is bringing people of diverse backgrounds together in the spirit of universal love and human rights. And that is very much in the spirit of Dr. King. I've always admired Martin Luther King, his writings and what he did standing up for social justice and basic human dignity. They have always been very inspiring to me. So that was part of my motivation, too.

"I think the Martin Luther King holiday, in a lot of communities, is a throw-away holiday, and too many people don't pay attention other than their mail isn't delivered and they might have the day off work. I felt our community needs to celebrate what Dr. King stood for. Our world desperately needs these ideas and values to be lifted up."

Mr. Rust said he has witnessed the results of the concerts, not just in the growing turnouts, but in the effect on the audience -- as well as the participants.

"Sure, people who come back year after year is one indication," he said. "But also, I see people are moved to tears every year, and the students talk about what a meaningful experience it is working with the other choirs and being exposed to this music. All that is a measure of the success."

Tonight's free concert begins at 7 p.m. at Franklin Regional High School, 3200 School Road in Murrysville. Donations will be accepted to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and well see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at or 412-263-1456.This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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