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Ron Wynn is the author of this classical music review.
Just by being what it is, any Martin Luther King Day event has an inspirational quality. But Sunday night’s 20th annual Nashville Symphony Orchestra “Let Freedom Sing” celebration at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center’s Laura Turner Hall was far more than a poignant gathering and feel-good event.
It also offered powerful testimonies and compelling stories from those who not only witnessed history, but were direct participants in the momentumental transformation of American society caused by the Civil Rights Movement.
Part of that was due to the contributions of Andrea Blackman, who was announced before the show as the 2013 winner of the Edwina Hefner Community Leadership Award. This is given to a community member whose work exemplifies Dr. King’s legacy. Blackman has been coordinating the Nashville Public Library’s acclaimed Civil Rights Room and Collection since 2003.
Sunday’s program included excerpts of oral history and accounts of demonstrations, confrontations, and strategies, as well as photographs and visual accounts, that are part of Blackman’s massive collection. The voices of such names as Ola G. Hudson, Mrs. Alice Smith Perry, Dr. Matthew Kennedy, Salynn McCollum and other Freedom Riders, sit-in demonstrators and others punctuated the various songs, as well as often gut-wrenching scenes that spotlighted ugly signs, overt displays of hatred, and other items from the city’s past.
Yet, it was also made clear Nashville largely avoided the brutality and violence that plagued other areas. Indeed, Dr. King praised the Civil Rights and political leadership in the Nashville Black community and said it was a model for the nation. He also hailed the leadership and insight provided by students and faculty at Fisk University, Tennessee State University (then Tennessee A&I), American Baptist and Meharry Medical College.
This material was interspersed within a host of tremendous vocal and instrumental performances.