With past guests such as Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin, India.Arie and Brian McKnight, it comes as no shock that this year’s annual “Let Freedom Ring” music celebration was packed full to the brim with hopefuls for a free ticket. Hosted by the Kennedy Center and Georgetown University, this year’s commemoration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was surely a success.
Headlined by platinum-selling and Grammy Award-winning artist Patti LaBelle, musical performances were also given by the Let Freedom Ring Choir, a collaboration between singers from Georgetown, the Metropolitan Baptist Church and the Capitol Hill Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Led by Music Director Reverend Nolan Williams Jr., the choir, along with LaBelle, delivered a show stopping performance.
The spirit of the entire celebration was hopeful, optimistic and humble.
Bringing the spirit of the Hilltop to the celebration, Jarvis Matthews (COL ’12) opened the ceremony and delivered the invocation, focusing on the necessity of peace and equality. Matthews spoke of the need for continued support and prayers for those affected by the 2009 earthquakes that destroyed Haiti and claimed an estimated 300,000 lives. Along with those affected in Haiti, Matthews asked for the support and prayers of the victims of the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz. To end his speech, Matthews led the 2,500 members of the audience in the opening prayer.
After Matthews, University President John J. DeGioia presented Joseph Lowery, a prominent figure in the American civil rights movement and an influential American figure alongside his colleague King, with the ninth annual John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award. Lowery spoke from the heart and added his own humor: “They told me I had all the time I needed,” said Lowery, “as long as I didn’t take over five minutes.”
Lowery spoke of 2009, when he gave President Barack Obama his benediction and reiterated the emerging belief of many Americans. “Those who come in resistance, steeped in hate, dipped in the venom of racial hostility, we come to say ain’t no way. Ain’t no way!” Lowery said. He concluded with his inspirational message of the coming of a new day “when justice will roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Following a standing ovation for Lowery came the one-and-only Patti LaBelle. LaBelle’s performance brought the audience to its feet, even causing many to rush to the stage to snap a photo of the glamorous and hardly aging diva. After performing an array of musical numbers, LaBelle was still going strong and was convinced to perform a double encore by the enthusiastic applause. Hitting incredible notes, chatting up the ecstatic audience and even taking off her shoes, LaBelle provided an unforgettable experience. Backed by the choir, the two delivered a powerful performance, filled with messages of love, motivation, hope and freedom. A fitting celebration for the wonderful legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.