'We Shall Overcome' performance to display the power of music

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February 4, 2019

By Karen Duarte '22

Damien Sneed

Damien Sneed

As a theologian, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood and appreciated music, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper.

“As a civil rights leader, he (King) understood the power that music had within the movement,” wrote Ernie Suggs in a 2018 article. “Personally, hymns and spirituals helped carry him through difficult times.”

The power of music will be on full display during “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” to be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at Escher Auditorium, Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict.

Inspired by the legacy of King, “We Shall Overcome” showcases a soulful range of African-American music traditions interwoven with spoken word from King’s recorded speeches. The show is a joyful celebration of music that will move your heart and soul.

The performance is part of the Fine Arts Series at CSB and Saint John’s University.

“We Shall Overcome” was created and produced by Damien Sneed. The performance features a band with five vocal soloists, and highlights a repertoire that empowered generations of civil rights activists.

“The show ties together a living lineage of music and culture from gospel and spirituals to classical and jazz to soul and rhythm & blues,” Sneed’s website says.

“For years, American musical artists have used their platform to proclaim songs of protest and reconciliation in response to the many issues in our homes, schools, government, nation and the world abroad,” Sneed said on the IMG Artists website. “My desire with this musical offering is to follow in the footsteps of the pantheon of great artists like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and others who melodically gave voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.”

And it all works, according to Brian Chang, who reviewed the Jan. 13 performance of “We Shall Overcome” in Toronto.

“All these exceptional performances were hair-raising, heart-pounding moments or exquisite music,” Chang wrote on the Ludwig van Toronto website. “The program was referential to history but not a historical program. Sneed improvised on piano while the words of Dr. King filled the auditorium. More than anything, this was a concert of black music excellence to exalt and uplift.”    

Sneed is a multi-genre recording artist and a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence honor, which is presented annually to emerging classical artists of color. As a pianist, organist, vocalist, conductor, composer, producer, arranger, and arts educator, Sneed has collaborated with legends such as Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Duke Ellington, and Stevie Wonder.

He also served as a musical director for season four of Sunday Best, Black Entertainment Television’s hit award-winning gospel singing competition show, Sneed’s website said.

During the performance, a community choir­ - consisting of students, faculty, staff, members of the greater St. Joseph and St. Cloud communities and the choir from Higher Ground Church in St. Cloud - will sing four songs on stage. The four songs the community choir will sing with Damien Sneed is available for download. Learn these songs in advance and be ready to sing along from your seat! The songs are, “Almighty God Has Those Angels,” “Call Him by His Name,” “Everyone Has a Place” and “Freedom.”

The choir will be under the direction of Susan (Cogdill) Vollbrecht, professor of music at CSB and SJU and director of the CSB Women’s Choir. The community choir is presented in partnership with Fine Arts Series and the Higher Ground Church.

Tickets for the performance are $30 for adults, $27 for seniors, $23 for CSB/SJU faculty and staff, $15 for youths and students with and ID, and $10 for CSB/SJU students.

For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.

This showcase is sponsored in part by Intercultural and International Student Services, El-Jay Plumbing and Heating and Microbiologics.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Art Board, thanks to a legislation appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

The activity is also made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.