Local children's talent on display at Black History Month concert

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Thu., Feb. 28, 2013
Troy Valjean Rucker, Ramon Morant and Alika Hope performing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' at the 'Now Let Me Fly: A Black History Month Concert.' Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Slaves being transported to America from the 16th through 19th centuries brought with them musical traditions - like call-and-response vocals - from their African cultures, which eventually gave way to work songs, field hollers and shouts from slaves in the fields. These songs and calls were carried on through the African-American culture, resonating in and influencing the emergence of gospel music and African-American blues in the 1920s. The growth of gospel and blues eventually led to the creation of many musical genres, including modern rock, pop and rhythm and blues.

In celebration of the African-American culture and the music in particular, one local resident put together "Now Let Me Fly: A Black History Month Concert," featuring local children and performers at the historic South Church in Hartford, on Feb. 24. The concert was intended to promote awareness of ConnectiKids, a non-profit youth development organization that encourages children to reach their potential. The group, which also benefited from the concert, provides year-round enrichment for children by exposing them to positive role models, helping with character development and providing after-school programs cultivating the arts.

“It was well received and the kids did great,” said Alika Hope, event coordinator and performer. “They fought back the nerves and were excited to be up there. It’s rewarding to see the kids meshing together. They were different ages, different ethnicities, boys and girls; and they worked together. We do not need to be separating them by any kind of lines, any kind of division.”

Hope provided her soprano voice alongside a variety of talented artists from the music and drama communities. She performed a wealth of spirituals and American operas alongside baritone Troy Valjean Rucker, including moving renditions of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho." Pianist Penny Brandt, guitarist Ramon Morant and saxophonist James Mitchell also participated in the musical acts.  The concert was educational as well, featuring a historical narration from Samuel Bryant. The loudest applause was reserved for last, as a group of children from throughout the area, including Windsor and Hartford, sang "Go Tell it on the Mountain" and "This Little Light of Mine."

Hope moved to the area three years ago, and when she met someone who worked with ConnectiKids and found out what the group entailed, she wanted to help out as much as possible. Hope, not having a lot of money but knowing some performers in the area, thought she could best contribute by lending her and her performing friend’s talents to the group, hoping to influence the children through being positive role models. Hope believes this concert will aid in building the children’s self-esteem, showing them they have the talent to put on concerts and perform in front of an audience. She said that the title of her first performance for the group was influenced by an old African-American spiritual with the same name, saying it personified and embodied the group’s message.

“It allows children to have wings and soar to get out of poverty,” Hope said. “We want to help enable the children to fly and make positive choices in their lives.”

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