To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, The University of Nevada, Reno, hosted a concert in the Nightingale Concert Hall called “Songs of Love and Justice: Reverberations of 1968” on Thursday, April 4. The event was organized by UNR Assistant Professor of Voice and Opera, Albert R. Lee.
The event focused on the five-year time period where major political figures were assassinated, such as MLK, Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy, and honed in on how the problems the community faced and the lessons individuals learned could also apply to modern-day America.
“The takeaway of this show is to shed light on this moment in our country’s history and tie that in with the present situation,” Lee said. “And to help people recognize that this is not a new moment, that we’ve been here before, and now we’re here again. And hopefully we’ll recognize some of the mistakes we made 50 years ago in that fight, and now be able to fight a little bit differently, and fight a little more effectively.”
The concert ran three video clips throughout the show, including Ossie Davis’ eulogy for Malcolm X, MLK’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech and Robert F. Kennedy’s speech delivered the night MLK was assassinated.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to vent music in a way that people can get the fuller story,” Lee said. “And the music may not offer that as clearly in the way that a video does. I wasn’t sure that the text of the first piece would be as clear on its own, and so to have the voice of Ossie Davis speaking this eulogy sort of gave just a fuller understanding of what that eulogy was.”
Lee was also the tenor singer for the event and performed the first piece with violinist David France, an old friend of his from the University of Connecticut.
“Having a few days to make music again with him after all these years was really special,” Lee said. “And for it to be a particular work that had so much resonance with both of us, you just can’t put a price tag on that.”
This was the first time in recent years that a concert has been put on in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day at UNR.
“In my case, I hadn’t been born yet,” said William L. Lake Jr., the conductor for the last piece. “And doing this kinda allows me to empathize with those times, the people, King, his message, and not only what it feels like to be American, but specifically an African American during that time.”
Lee says that he most likely will not do this exact concert again in future years but is “pretty certain” he will work on concerts that share a similar message.
Austin Daly can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.