Jazz Great Christian McBride Pays Tribute to Civil Rights Legends

While interpreting the milestones of the civil rights movement can be a daunting task, Christian McBride has risen to the challenge with “The Movement Revisited” – an inspiring four-part composition slated for performance at the Kennedy Center on February 4.

McBride’s epic production gives us words from Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. These words will be accompanied by the Christian McBride Big Band of 17 musicians.

“This article was not written to make a definitive history or statement about black history,” said seven-time Grammy winner McBride during our recent chat.

“If you look at a specific time in the history of our country, there have always been black people who have been very important in keeping us afloat,” he said.

For the Kennedy Center performance, the civil rights icons’ words will be voiced by Keith David (“Greenleaf,” “The Thing”); Tamara Tunie (“Law and Order: SVU,” “Spring Awakening”); Vondie Curtis-Hall (“Chicago Hope”, “Daredevil”); and Dion Graham (“Malcolm X”, “The Wire”).

Singer Alicia Olatuja, the Howard Gospel Choir and choir director JD Steele will round out the ensemble.

Movement Growth

“The Movement Revisited,” commissioned in 1998 by the Portland (Maine) Arts Society, began as a piece for a gospel quartet and choir. It gained momentum in 2008 when the LA Philharmonic asked McBride to revise and expand it for its next season.

American racing history from the 1950s to the 1970s served as McBride’s inspiration for the sequel.

“When I was growing up, these pieces came from my grandma’s massive collection of Jet and Ebony magazines,” McBride said of remembering a staple of many black homes. “I didn’t necessarily learn a lot of history in Scholastic Books.”

Seeing black people covered in two national magazines from Johnson Publishing, a black-owned company, became a tool for McBride to see history from a different perspective. Along with picking up more facts from school and his family, he said he created the sequel around voices that spoke to his mind.

A sequel CD, recorded on Mack Avenue Records in September 2013, would not be released until nearly seven years later due to legal issues.

“We knew it would be difficult to get the rights to use the actual words of the historical figures featured in the sequel,” said McBride, host of National Public Radio’s “Jazz Night in America.”

Since its formative years in 1998, McBride’s following has followed a winding path – similar to how the country has evolved.

“In 1998, you could say it could have been called ‘peacetime,'” McBride said. “That’s why it was called ‘The Movement Revisited.’ I don’t know if we will be back. We create new movements.

For tickets, go to www.kennedy-center.org.

Ada J. Kenney