This year, no other city will have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance like Macon.
The free Monday observance and 7 p.m. Grand Opera House concert will pay tribute to King through readings of a little-known Senegalese poem, “Elegy for Martin Luther King,” which will be threaded through dance and music.
“The poem is a deeply felt tribute to King by Leopold Sedar Senghor,” said John Dunaway, Mercer University French professor and founder of The Beloved Community Symposium, which works to further King’s dream of racial harmony. “I hope we fill the Grand Opera House in remembering Dr. King and committing to further his dream of a beloved community among all races.”
Dunnaway said Senghor was a poet, statesman and Senegal’s first president, serving two decades following independence in 1960. Dunaway said it was during a Senegal Independence Day celebration Senghor learned of King’s assassination.
“There are parallels between the two men and their philosophies,” Dunaway said. “Senghor was deeply struck by the assassination. He immediately turned and wrote the poem.”
Dunaway said he only learned of the poem through student trips to Senegal. It has seen virtually no use in the U.S. honoring King.
Another of the evening’s unique features relates to the work’s sub-title: For jazz orchestra. Despite the phrase, Dunaway could find no related music so he commissioned Christopher Schmitz, jazz composer and professor of music theory at Mercer, to do so.
Schmitz’s composition premieres at the event.
“I was honored to be part of honoring Dr. King and to contribute to the project,” Schmitz said. “The poem has such a richness, I wanted to create music in the same spirit. I was immediately inspired with several musical ideas mirroring the power of Senghor’s sentiments. My hope is the music amplifies images and emotions from the text.”
Both Dunaway and Schmitz hope the poem and now-existent jazz piece find a future honoring King in the U.S.
Schmitz’s piece will be performed by the Mercer Jazz Ensemble, led by associate professor and director of jazz studies, Monty Cole. Michael Scott, director of Central High School’s band program, will give dramatic readings. Dance will be performed by Pilar Wilder Lowden’s Hayiya Dance Theatre, and Dunaway and Chester Fontenot, director of Africana studies at Mercer, will provide commentary.
The Otis Redding Foundation Dream Choir will conclude the concert.
Senegal will be represented by Honorary Consul to Senegal Julius Coles, and a six-person delegation from the French Consul General. Coles attended Morehouse College in the 1960s and will give a lecture on “The Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta” at 7 p.m Tuesday in Mercer’s Stetson Hall, room 251.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
“Elegy for Martin Luther King”
Where: The Grand Opera House, 651 Mulberry St., Macon
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 15