Santa Monica College has released program details for its upcoming annual birthday celebration of the legacy of iconic slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The special event will be held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Monday, January 15th, at 9 a.m. in the SGI, Inc. World Culture Auditorium, 525 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. Admission is free.

The program will feature the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, as keynote speaker.

The multi-ethnic, interfaith program will also include inspirational readings, music and presentations of scholarships.

This year’s theme is “True Peace is the Presence of Justice,” words that come from an anti-segregation speech that King delivered to Bennet College in North Carolina in the 1950s.

For 45 years, Carter has studied and worked in 14 American universities, colleges and professional schools; spoken at about 80 colleges, universities and seminaries; received more than 500 speaking engagements from 18 denominations; and traveled to 33 foreign countries. He has also made radio and television appearances internationally.

Carter was brought on as the first dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel in 1979 and is a tenured professor of religion, as well as college curator. He is also an adjunct professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in the Master of Public Health Program.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia University of Lynchburg in social science and psychology, a master’s of divinity degree in theology, a master’s degree in pastoral care and a doctorate in pastoral care and counseling from Boston University.

He did further study at Andover Newton Theological School, Ohio State University, Harvard University, Georgia State University, New York University, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Brown University, Spelman College and George Washington University.

He is a licensed and ordained Baptist minister, was a 1994 Fulbright Scholar in Brazil and twice a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, in 1993 and 1996.

SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE — The Santa Monica Symphony, under the direction of conductor Allen Robert Gross, will celebrate Martin Luther King Day with a free concert at 2:30 p.m. in the SGI Auditorium as a finale to Santa Monica’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration.

The concert will feature guest soprano vocalist Juandalynn R. Abernathy, daughter of civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy, singing with the Santa Monica Symphony.

Abernathy plans to sing traditional spirituals, songs by Aaron Copland, the orchestral “Epitaph (In memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.)” by Adolphus Hailstork, and excerpts from the “Afro-American Symphony” by William Grant Still.

In Europe, Abernathy has had a notable singing career, with many important appearances in Germany and Austria, as well as special appearances for United States embassies around the world. She grew up in Atlanta singing classical religious songs as a soloist in large churches. Abernathy received a B.A. in Music from Oberlin College and a Master of Music from Boston Conservatory. She then received a scholarship from the Goethe Institute in Germany which enabled her to begin her concert career in Europe. Her repertoire ranges from opera and the art song repertoire to spirituals, which are her specialty.

“Music was a major part of Martin Luther King’s life and the Civil Rights Movement,” says D’Lynn Waldron, spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Symphony. “Marchers and demonstrators sang as they peacefully resisted oppression,” she says.

“People of all faiths sang in their houses of worship in solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. Their anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’ is now used around the world,” Waldron says.

The music in the program pays tribute to the African-American roots of much of American music, and to African-American composers of symphonic music.

Adolphus Hailstork, born in 1941, began composing while a student at Howard University and has become a distinguished African-American composer. His musical composition “Epitaph” is a symbolic depiction of the mourning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the strength and courage that has since been derived from King’s life.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was nicknamed the “Dean of American Negro Composers.” He studied music at Wilberforce University in Ohio and moved to Los Angeles in 1930. He was the first Afro-American to have a symphony performed by a major American symphony orchestra, and in 1936, he was the first African-American to conduct a symphony orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. The Santa Monica Symphony will present the first and third movements from Still’s Symphony No. 1, the “Afro-American,” written in 1930.

The tradition of African-American spirituals has been preserved and adapted for the concert hall by many arrangers over the years.

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) arranged four of the spirituals that will be performed by the Santa Monica Symphony. Bonds was a composer, pianist and teacher. As a pianist, she was the first African-American to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as a composer, she often collaborated with the poet Langston Hughes. From 1968 until her death in 1972, she lived in Los Angeles, where she taught at the Los Angeles Inner City Institute. She began composing orchestral arrangements of spirituals late in her career for the noted soprano Leontyne Price.

The tradition of arranging spirituals is being carried on by young composers such as Andre Meyers, assistant professor of music at Occidental College, whose arrangement of “Ride On, King Jesus” and whose composition “Colored Shadows” will be performed by the Santa Monica Symphony at the concert tribute.

The event is coordinated by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition, a nonprofit coalition whose missions are to further and remain consistent with King’s legacy.

Information, (310) 434-4003.

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