Q&A with Dr. Uzee Brown Jr.

Morehouse maestro

Atlanta’s King Celebration concert will feature the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, music director Robert Spano, the Morehouse and Spelman College glee clubs, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. National Public Radio (WABE ) will air the concert on the MLK holiday, January 16. Morehouse music department chair Dr. Uzee Brown Jr. talks about this enduring tradition. 

Photograph by Philip McCollum Photography

In 1999 NPR commissioned you to arrange a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to honor King’s seventieth birthday. What inspired you? NPR wanted a piece that was festive and carried the spirit and the power of that freedom song, the song of the movement.

When your arrangement is performed at the King Celebration, attendees have been known to stand as if Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” is being sung. What runs through your mind? A feeling of tremendous pride. When I hear it myself, it stirs something in me as well. It brings back all the power of the message of “We Shall Overcome.”

This annual concert also celebratesAfrican American classical composition. This has been a lifelong commitment for you and one you shared with Dr. King. It was one of the most significant things Robert Shaw brought to this city. When the conductor of the Atlanta Symphony said that we needed to have music that was reflective of the makeup of Atlanta as it relates to people of color, that was a huge moment. This concert continues his work as well.

Rich Eldredge is one of our editorial contributors.
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