Realizing the Dream Performing Arts Series Violinist Tami Lee Hughes Celebrates African-American Artists Throughout American History

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By Joon Yea Lee
CCBP Graduate Assistant

On Thursday, August 30, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream performing arts series took the Tuscaloosa community on an emotional journey celebrating African-American composers and literary artists at the Alabama Power Recital Hall on the Shelton State Community College campus.

The multimedia concert, known as The Legacy Show, is a creation inspired, directed and performed by violinist Tami Lee Hughes, a native of Baton Rouge, La.

Hughes and pianist Byron Burford-Phearse, longtime friends since their college days at the University of Michigan, opened the show with a captivating modern piece, “S.L.I.C.E.,” by composer Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes. Hughes then performed the song “Bingham’s Cotillion” by Francis Johnson accompanied by the poem “The Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. The performance was presented with a series of photos and drawings from the early 1800s.

Hughes added an educational component to the performance by introducing each composer and poet with historical background and personal stories. For instance, Hughes said that Francis Johnson, born in Pennsylvania, could not perform in the South where racial discrimination was severe in the early 1800s, yet he performed for Queen Victoria to celebrate her ascent to the British throne in 1837.

“I wanted to demonstrate a very broad range of what happened in our history and culture over time,” said Hughes.

As creator and director of the show, Hughes personally chose the songs, poems and photos presented. Seven African-American composers accompanied by six poems by different poets were introduced in the 90-minute performance.

“I chose different artists representing different parts of our history; some are well known while some aren’t,” said Hughes.

Continuing on a historical and cultural journey, Hughes played selections from “Five Violin Solos” by George Morrison. The poem “Harriet Tubman AKA Moses” by poet Samuel W. Allen was read. The mournful tune of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” intensified the emotions stirred by photos and drawings of slaves and young children being whipped.

Attendees held their breath as Hughes continued with songs from the Antebellum Period to the jazzy Harlem Renaissance, from the majestic tunes of the civil rights movement to a modern piece by Kerwin Young that honors women. All the while, Hughes’ performance illustrated the emotions and stories behind each song, poem and era.

“I grew up in Mississippi, so some of the places that were listed in the photos reminded me of where I grew up,” said Dr. Cindy Ann Kilgo, a UA faculty member in the College of Education. “I really liked this immediate connection to the media that was shown on the projector while she was performing. Getting to hear Langston Hughes’ poem and getting to see images while she is playing songs from different time periods, I think for someone like me who studies minoritized college populations, it felt real and we were in the moment. It was like a full experience.”

“We were talking about how much she puts her emotion into her performance and how it embodies the music,” said Keely Latopolski, an academic advisor/coordinator, director of diversity and inclusion in the Culverhouse College of Business. “I really liked how the violin and piano complemented each other and it was really cool to see it all come together, especially with all the different media.”

Rodney Prewitt, a retired education administrator who recently returned to Tuscaloosa, expressed his thanks to the Realizing the Dream Committee for this performance. “I’m very appreciative that there are events like this that are available for anybody,” he said. “I enjoyed the whole performance because it gave a historical experience from beginning to end. For instance, my great-grandparents were slaves and so I can associate with many of the things portrayed in the performance.”

The MLK Realizing the Dream series, hosted by The University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, Stillman College and the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference, aims to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace and social justice by creating educational and cultural opportunities for growth, empowerment and social change.

Judging from audience reaction, this year’s Tami Lee Hughes’ The Legacy Show matched the purpose of the MLK Realizing the Dream series in every sense.