By Vernon A. Williams
So for one week, I want to write about something that’s NOT the presidential race or politics, the fear and threats of coronavirus, the crime and murder rate, racism and bigotry or any of the inescapable issues that confront us on a daily basis. This is lighter talk, but with a serious twist.
Full transparency. I am one of the so-called “celebrity” singers who will take the stage at the Glen Theater next Saturday, March 7 in Gary. It will be my fifth straight year and it’s something that I look forward to for two reasons.
The first reason is that I love to sing. I won’t argue with anyone over how well I do it since I don’t have any Grammy Awards sitting on my bookcase. But I can carry a tune. And most important, again, I enjoy it. But the driving force for me to make that trip from Indianapolis to Ridge Road every year is the group that benefits from the fundraiser.
The African American Achievers Youth Corps. works with boys from 6th grade through high school to offer free tutoring, engage youth in empowerment workshops and team building sports activities, build self-esteem, provide educational enhancement opportunities, offer counseling and mentoring, provide cultural and recreational involvements, and occasionally employment.
The organization meets at Indiana University Northwest which, in itself, is a positive. Becoming acclimated to an atmosphere of higher learning can only help mold the thinking of these young Black scholars in a positive way.
Let’s face it. Black males across the nation are confronted with grim realities in their everyday life. Even those who get love at home are warned about the mean streets and how to respond in certain crisis situations – prompted by little more than the color of their skin. The Achievers initiative is one of many that helps address this challenge in a real way.
In addition to those “celebrities” behind the microphone, the event will need people in the audience to not only help raise money for these boys, but to throw tomatoes at performers who can’t sing on key. Just kidding. Let’s practice nonviolence and show some love for folks who have the nerve to get in front of a crowd for the cause.
This event is the brainchild of Dr. Vernon G. Smith (nice first name) who will be among the performers which include Lonnie Randolph, Earl Harris, Queen Toppin, Darren Washington, Natalie Ammons, Cozie Weatherspoon, Carolyn Jackson, Vanessa McCloud, and – worth the cost of admission all by himself – Mayor Jerome Prince.
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Call 219-887-2046 for more information.
Some will lip sync and others will actually sing. No matter how great or awful their performance, it’s no surprise that they are game. Every male Baby Boomer at some time grabbed a hairbrush microphone alone in front of a bedroom mirror and imagined crooning a love song to a rabid, boisterous female audience yelling out their name.
Most brothers remember teaming with three or four other guys to sing on a front porch, under a street lamp, in a school hallway or any space they could find to assign harmony parts for each member of the group.
Of course, all those singing groups were modeled after the Temptin’ Temptations, the premier soul quintet of all time.
The highest voice in the neighborhood or school group wasn’t called ‘tenor,’ it was – who will sing Eddie Kendrick? Who will sing the raspy lead vocal was who will do David Ruffin? And my category, bass, was who will sing Melvin Franklin. With a freaky deep voice since my freshman year of high school, I usually won that role “no contest.”
At Indiana University my love for singing only grew as I started a singing group with three other Garyites – Bill White, Mike Exum and Angela McMillan. We were the Shades of Soul and performed on campus and around the state. We were the closing act for campus talent shows.
The next year, our lead left to sing with the traveling musical, “Hair” and our female vocalist left school. But fortunately, musical genius and educator Dr. Portia K. Maultsby came to the Bloomington campus and launched the IU Soul Revue. I sung with an awesome group of vocalists – including the sensational Richard Jackson and Reggie.
Soul Revue was the peak of my singing “career.” Graduating the School of Journalism and returning, I had to focus on my day job at the Gary Post-Tribune. But it was fun while it lasted. Singing in the men’s choir at Mt. Zion Apostolic Church in Indianapolis presents occasional opportunities to harmonize in front of a crowd again.
So it’s always a joy to come home to the Glen Theater and join city, county and state lawmakers and officials, local business leaders, entrepreneurs, community and civic leaders willing to take center stage and risk missing a few notes in the name of charity. The bottom line is that a program like African American Achievers and what it does for young Black males is worthy of all of our support.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].