We’ve got so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend: family, friends, good health, lots of local entertainment to write about and those of you willing to read about it, and a magical Razorback football season, which for me and others has meant a very happy fall. That’s just to name some of the things on my “thanks” list.
Lawrence Hamilton told us the other day how thankful he is to be able to pick up the phone and get some star performer to join him for what is becoming an annual benefit holiday show. This year, Della Reese, the singer, actress and star of TV’s “Touched by an Angel,” was there for Hamilton, and she’ll appear with the Arkansas native and Broadway actor on Friday, Dec. 1, at Robinson Center Music Hall in a show that celebrates not only the holiday season, but World AIDS Day.
Last year, Hamilton brought in the wonderful Freda Payne for an exciting night of pop hits, Christmas music and moving narration that was a more contemporary approach to holiday events, he said. “This year is going to be a little bit of that, but leaning to more of the traditional side of Christmas.”
Hamilton joined Philander Smith College as its choral director going on three years ago while commuting between Arkansas and New York City. His Philander Smith Choir and alumni, about 70 voices strong, will open the show with a gospel version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Vocalist Kelley Ponder, an adjunct professor at PSC, and choirs from Episcopal Collegiate School, West Memphis High School and Horace Mann Middle School also will participate in the show, along with other musicians and performers.
Hamilton told us he was thrilled that Congressman Vic Snyder had written a Christmas song that he will use in the show. The Horace Mann Ensemble Singers will join Hamilton for his always stirring rendition of “Mary Had a Baby.” Hamilton will also be leading an orchestra made up of some Arkansas Symphony talents and other musicians from around the state.
Bringing in the young choirs is a twofold mission for Hamilton, he said.
“It’s giving them an early taste of college choir experience and working with these talented people,” he said. “I’m wanting these kids to enjoy the music, and perhaps to want to come to Philander Smith College after they leave high school. I know the West Memphis kids are really looking forward to it. I’m doubly excited about that.”
Hamilton is hoping events like these can lead to the creation of an all-city choir for high school-age students.
Mike Nichols, the designer extraordinaire from the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, is creating the sets for the show.
Reese, who grew up in Detroit and toured as a teen with gospel icon Mahalia Jackson before becoming a jazz and R&B star, will be featured in the show’s second act, Hamilton said. “She’ll probably do some of her standard classic hits, but she’ll also probably be more inspirational, being touched by an angel … I had decided to call the show ‘In the Spirit’ anyway, and now having Della it just fell into place.’
The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $50, and proceeds from the concert, sponsored in part by “One Special Angel” and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, will benefit the Harry R. Kendall Health and Science Mission Center at Philander Smith. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster outlets (Harvest Foods stores, Celebrity Attractions’ downtown office, www.ticketmaster.com, 975-7575). A VIP package, including a private post-performance reception with Della Reese, is also available at $200 per couple. Call Sericia Rouse at 370-5279.