The City of the Arts lived up to its name on Jan. 15 during the North Carolina Black Repertory Company’s 28th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration.
Twenty-four acts graced the Arts Council Theatre stage on what would have been King’s 84th birthday, entertaining a crowd of more than 400. The King Day showcase has become a time honored tradition for many in the local community.
“It’s always a full house,” Artistic Director Mabel Robinson said. “The response was really good this year as it has been in the past.”
The show is a rare opportunity for city residents to show off their artistic talents in a professional environment before a supportive crowd, Robinson said. Performers ranged from seasoned entertainers to fresh new talent and everything in between.
“There was a nice variety, and that’s usually the whole point, to give those in the community a chance to be seen if they want to be showcased,” Robinson said. “…It’s important for us to be able to see what’s out there.”
Among this year’s performers were brothers Khalil and Jabril Caesar. The boys, ages 15 and 10, did a duet version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
“I love performing with my brother because he is really good at what he does,” said Jabril, a fifth grader at Forsyth Academy. “We like to sing together because we think we sound really good.”
The brothers are no strangers to the Black Rep stage. Khalil, a freshman at North Forsyth High School and their older brother Kevin are both members of the NCBRC Teen Theater. Jabril made his Black Rep debut last spring, during the Marvtastic Talent Extravaganza. The boys say they were inspired to become singers after watching a movie about The Temptations. Khalil said Tuesday that he hopes to make a career out of it someday.
“I just like to show the world what God has given me as a blessing – a good voice,” he remarked. “I like to share it with other people and let them see.”
Jabril said he was excited to be included in such an auspicious occasion.
“We’re very excited because this is our first MLK performance,” he commented. “We like to represent him and what he did for our country.”
Courtney Taylor brought 42 dancers from the YMCA’s Positive Image Performing Arts competitive jazz classes out to take part in the show. The girls, who ranged in age from six to 15, are on the cusp of the competition season and Taylor said the celebration was a welcome opportunity for them to brush up on their skills and interact with the broader community.
“This helps develop them as dancers. The more performances they get under their belts, the better they do at competition,” said Taylor, the founder of PIPA. “They learn a lot of valuable lessons.”
Twelve year-old Nevaeh Graham was returning to the Arts Council stage after bringing home second place at the Marvastic Extravaganza. Nevaeh, a sixth grader at Northwest Middle, said she has been performing since she was three. An athlete and performer, Nevaeh said she cut her teeth as a dancer at Mount Zion Baptist Church. These days, performing comes naturally to her.
“I’m excited more than nervous because I’m getting used to performing in front of big crowds,” she said moments before her act was called. “The only thing I’ve got to do is pray and talk to my mom. That’s all.”
April Watson, a freshman at the UNC School of the Arts High School Academic Program, was the only ballet dancer on the ticket. The city native, who made her debut on the Black Rep stage during the performance, began honing her craft in elementary school, when she was selected to participate in UNCSA’s Preparatory Dance Program, a free after school initiative for talented youngsters in grades three through seven.
“I was born flexible so one day my elementary school teacher at Diggs recommended me to try out for the School of the Arts,” the 14 year-old explained. “I did, and I made it. I think it’s really fun and I like that it’s very challenging, and the different styles of dances and the different emotions that you can show with it.”
Wadesboro native James “Jimmy” Diggs is keeping tradition alive as a member of the Gospel Community Choir.
“This kind of music seems to be extinct,” he declared. “The old time – the slave music – a lot of churches don’t have it anymore. You sing from the soul with this kind of music; it’s soul singing. It’s such a rich history and I want to make sure that it’s kept alive.”
The retired RJ Reynolds employee said he was inspired to form the group, which focuses on traditional gospel, for the Marvtastic Extravaganza last year. “This is my dream,” he remarked. “This is the dream that God has given me, and I’m determined to see it through and to pass it down to other people so this kind of rich heritage can continue to grow.”
Robinson said she was thrilled to have such a diverse group of performers at this year’s celebration.
“It was like old home week for some and welcome for others,” she commented. “…It’s nice for the young people to be able to see the seasoned performers and where they can possibly go, and it’s also good for the older people to be able to see the youth so that they will continue to energize them. We should continue to have this celebration because it’s a very important one. It’s important for the young people as well as those who lived it.”
In keeping with tradition, the NCBRC collected canned goods for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC in lieu of admission for the King Celebration. The effort amassed four large boxes of nonperishable food donations.
For more information about the NC Black Repertory Company, visit www.ncblackrep.org or call 336-723-2266.