PITTSBURGH GOSPEL CHOIR—Dr. Herbert V.R.P. Jones conducts the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir (Photos by Gail L. Manker)
Bridging Pittsburgh’s racial divide through music and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational message of togetherness is why Kris Rust helped create the Let Freedom Sing! choral festival six years ago.
“I’m inspired by Dr. King’s commitment to lifting up humanity which is common to all people,” said Rust, who also serves as the director of choirs at Franklin Regional High School. “The sense that we have to be together and love one another. Dr. King said all that so eloquently in his words and vigorously in his actions. He’s a figure in history.”
Rust always holds the free, two-day concert on the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday and has one concert in the City of Pittsburgh and another in a suburb of the Golden Triangle.
“We want to make this a joint effort of the city and the suburbs. This brings adult groups from churches and people from all stages of their lives. It’s great for my students to see that singing is something they can do their whole lives,” Rust said.
This year’s events were held at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in East Liberty, Jan. 19, and at Murrysville-based Franklin Regional High Jan. 21. The concerts featured folk singer Ellen Gozion, who performed a set of American folk songs, in addition to multi-disciplinary artist, photographer, poet, actress and designer Vanessa German, who weaved her original words into Dr. King’s words. In addition, Murrysville native and jazz artist Carolyn Perteete performed in addition to the Franklin Regional High School Choir, McKeesport Area High School, Norwin High School, the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir and the Wilkinsburg High School.
Songs performed included old Negro spirituals “I Opened My Mouth To The Lord,” and “Don’t Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” in addition to Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” and Keith Hampton’s “Celebrate!” Joe Doblick served as baritone on “Celebrate!”
“African-American music is so rich and wonderful and I wanted my students to be a part of that experience,” said Rust when asked about the music chosen for the choral festival.
In addition to the musical component, Rust wants to use the annual concerts to build a stronger since of community in the city of Pittsburgh and beyond its boarders.
“We are all a part of Pittsburgh and the same human family,” said Rust. “On Saturday we had the biggest crowd we ever had. People were on their feet and the guests artists had sing along’s in their repertoire and there was a lot of clapping and response and we got a lot of compliments afterwards. We are also using these concerts to help with two food banks because Dr. King was very concerned about poverty as am I. For most people, the food bank is easy to support.”
Those food banks are the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Westmoreland County Food Banks. In 2012, Rust estimated the concerts raised $2,500 for the food banks.
“We hope to top that this year,” Rust said.
(For more information or updates on the Let Freedom Sing! concerts visit www.letfreedomsing.net or visit the Let Freedom Sing face book page.)