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Brooklyn’s annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House is not only the largest King celebration in New York City, but also one that consistently features some of the top performing artists and men and women of influence in the black community.

This year’s 18th annual "Come Share the Dream" celebration on Jan. 19 will feature a keynote address by Wynton Marsalis, jazz musician and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as performances by the Boys Choir of Harlem, The Persuasions and, from the landmark (and former Underground Railroad stop) Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene, the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble.

The event is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-seated basis.

The Boys Choir of Harlem will perform a number of songs, including "Precious Lord" and "We Are Heroes," by Linda Twine and Lee Cooper.

"[’We Are Heroes’] was written some time ago, but it speaks to Dr. King," choir founder and leader Dr. Walter J. Turnbull told GO Brooklyn.

Although the choir has performed in Brooklyn many times, as well as nationally and internationally, the young singers have not been heard at BAM recently.

"We are always proud to be a part of any Martin Luther King celebration. His goals were similar to those of the Boys Choir," said Turnbull.

The Choir Academy of Harlem was founded 32 years ago at Ephesus Church "to give kids something interesting and exciting to do," Turnbull said. Boys and girls are recruited from all five boroughs and auditions are held in every elementary school in Harlem. The Boys Choir is drawn from the academy and "that small group became internatio­nal."

In addition to its regular schedule of performances, the Boys Choir of Harlem has performed at the United Nations 30th Anniversary Concert, the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration, Pope John Paul II’s Sunrise Mass in Central Park, President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration and the ceremony for the African Burial Ground Re-interment Project.

As for the Persuasions, they are one of the few groups founded in Brooklyn that went on to achieve international fame but has remained in the borough. Group members live in Flatbush, Fort Greene and Park Slope.

According to Jimmy Hayes, one of the founding members of The Persuasions, one part of the group’s success is due to timing. The Persuasions began singing in 1962, when doo-wop’s heyday was over and the music world was ready for something new. That something turned out to be a cappella.

The other part was the sound.

"It was like Aretha Franklin," said Hayes. "Coming from the South, we grew up in the church. The sound had gospel overtones."

And, of course, there was also a bit of chance in the mix. For instance, the group didn’t really want to sing a cappella. In fact, it came about mostly as a necessity.

"We wanted to have a band, but it just didn’t happen," said Hayes. "We had a guitar player. Either he didn’t show up or he had to pawn the guitar. We played in subway stations and people said, ’You don’t need a band.’"

In 1974, the success of their single "I Really Got It Bad for You" proved those people were right.

Jayotis Washington and Joe Russell, along with Jimmy Hayes, are the original members who still sing with the group. (Ray Sanders replaced Herbert Rhoad, who died in 1988, and Jerry Lawson recently left the group to go solo.)

Hayes, who hears his own sound in groups like Sweet Honey in the Rock, The Nylons, Boys II Men and Rockapella, believes young people today have a new and better appreciation for a cappella.

At BAM, The Persuasions will sing a medley of gospel songs including the Beatles’ "Let It Be," Wings’ "Harmony for Two" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" ("our version," says Hayes), as well as one song with the Boys Choir.

The Opera House tribute begins at 10:30 am. Following the tribute in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, BAM Rose Cinemas will present special screenings of the brand new documentary, "Citizen King" directed by Orlando Bagwell and Noland Walker.


The Brooklyn Academy of Music "Come Share the Dream" tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. will take place on Jan. 19 at 10:30 am at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. Following the event will be screenings of the documentary "Citizen King" in the BAM Rose Cinemas. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House and BAM Rose Cinemas are located at 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene. The Opera House tribute and film screenings are free and open to the public with seating available on a first-come, first-seated basis. For more information, call (718) 636-4100.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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