The Let Freedom Ring Celebration is an annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., jointly presented by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Georgetown University. Following a two-year hiatus prompted by the COVID pandemic, 'Let Freedom Ring' returned to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall this January with a stellar program headlined by Tony and Grammy winner Leslie Odom, Jr. and music produced by NEWorks Productions CEO, Nolan Williams, Jr.
The 2023 program, hailed by The Washington Informer as "a grand return," featured Odom performing a range of selections from the American songbook, Williams leading the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir and NEWorks Band, and the presentation of the 21st annual John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda.
Other program participants included: Naomi Eluojierior, Georgetown University student; Marc Bamuthi Joseph, VP & Artistic Director of Social Impact, The Kennedy Center; Ziad "Z" Ojakli, Executive Vice President, Government Operations, Boeing (LFR Title Sponsor); and John J. DeGioia, President, Georgetown University.
Williams presented two original works as part of the program, performed by the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir and Band, Georgetown University student poets Cameren Evans, Isaiah Hodges, and Lucy Lawlor, and community soloists Roy Patten, Jr. and Laura Van Duzer.
The program opened with the world premiere of Williams' "We're Marching On!," a work commissioned by Georgetown University. The piece draws inspiration from a 1965 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and features spoken word delivered by Evans, Hodges and Lawlor.
Williams' second musical contribution is the social-justice-themed ballad, "We are the ones to heal our land." Commissioned last year by Choral Arts Society and Washington Performing Arts, this work has been adapted for this occasion and will feature Patten and Van Duzer.
PHOTO CREDIT: Art Pittman, courtesy of Georgetown University
Leslie Odom, Jr. is a multifaceted, award-winning vocalist, songwriter, author, and actor. With a career that spans all performance genres, he has received recognition with Tony and Grammy Awards as well as Emmy and, most recently, toe Academy Award nominations for his excellence and achievements in Broadway, television, film, and music.
Odom most recently starred in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, playing the role of Lionel Toussaint, and the critically acclaimed Amazon film adaptation of One Night in Miami..., in which he performed the songs of legendary singer Sam Cooke. Other recent projects include: The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel to David Chase's award-winning HBO series The Sopranos, and hosting CBS's live concert special, "The Tony Awards Present: Broadway's Back!"
Nolan Williams, Jr. is best described as a creative force. An award-winning producer, artistic director, composer/lyricist, and cultural curator, the multi-hyphenate Williams has dedicated his professional career to the curation of works that illuminate issues of civil rights, social justice, and cultural curiosities.
Through his company, NEWorks Productions, Williams has produced a body of work that includes choral/orchestral works premiered by major American orchestras; music for television; songwriting credits on two Grammy-nominated projects; arts and educational festivals produced in partnership with The Kennedy Center and Philadelphia’s Mann Center; cultural programming developed with the Smithsonian, U.S. State Department, and the Embassies of India, France and South Africa; video/documentary projects; artist collaborations with Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, and Denyce Graves; and, a slate of theatrical productions, including GRACE, a critically-acclaimed musical which premiered last year at Ford’s Theatre.
Williams is also the Kennedy Center’s inaugural Social Practice Resident and a recipient of the Kennedy Center’s National Performing Arts Committee’s 2019 Arts Advocacy Award.
For more information, visit nolanwilliamsjr.com.
The Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir brings together blended voices from Georgetown University and the D.C. metropolitan community. Comprised wholly of volunteers, the choir is about much more than singing. It represents Dr. King's idea of people breaking social and economic barriers to come together for a common message.
John Stoddart, arranger/keyboard 1
Daryl Hunt, arranger/track producer/keyboard 2
Jay Rojas, lead guitar
Jason Wilson, bass guitar
Quincy Phillips, set percussion
Ben Bokor, alto sax
Francis Antonyrai, tenor sax #
Chance Stine, tenor sax
Atharv Gupta, trumpet #
Kenny Rittenhouse, trumpet
Adrian Mitchell, trumpet
Logan Richman, trombone #
Christopher Steele, trombone
Sasha Kovalov, arranger
David Powell, production asst.
Diedre Neal, production asst.
(#Georgetown University student musicians)
Portland composer Damien Geter’s bold, thought-provoking work received its east-coast premiere on Monday, May 23, 2022 at the Kennedy Center.
A collaborative project with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the program opened with Nolan Williams, Jr.'s Spirituals Suite for Choir and Orchestra..
feat. the NEWorks Philharmonic Orchestra, Morgan State University Choir, NEWorks Voices of America and soloists | Hosted by Denyce Graves-Montgomery | The Great Hall of the Historic Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. | October 12, 2019 | Co-presented with the National Museum of African American History & Culture
feat. the United States Army Blues, emerging F.A.M.E. artists, and the world premiere of Allyn Johnson's "One Giant Leap" | Hosted by NBC-4 News anchor Pat Lawson Muse | Harmony Hall Arts Center, April 9, 2019 and The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, April 14, 2019 | Co-presented with M-NCPPC Department of Parks & Recreation/Arts & Cultural Heritage Division
feat. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Mann Center | June 24, 2019 | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts | Philadelphia Inquirer review
feat. the Philadelphia Community Mass Choir, The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | November 25, 2018 | Co-presented with The Kennedy Center
feat. the NEWorks Voices of America, Lincoln Memorial, The National Mall | August 27, 2018 | Presented with The White House Historical Association
feat. the Philadelphia Community Mass Choir, Monumental Baptist Church | August 11, 2018 | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
feat. The Philadelphia Orchestra and the world premiere of Darin Atwater's "South Side Symphonic Dances", Mann Center | July 18, 2018 | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
A concert of music and movement honoring the Bernstein centenary, The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | April 25, 2018
A concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The French Embassy, Washington, D.C. | April 3, 2018
feat. Step Afrika!, WPA Children of the Gospel, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and Split This Rock poets, The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | August 21, 2017
feat. NEWorks Voices of Inspiration, in celebration of the first anniversary of the National Museum of African American History & Culture | September 24, 2017
feat. The Philadelphia Orchestra and the world premiere of Nolan Williams, Jr.'s "Hold Fast To Dreams", Mann Center | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
feat. the NEWorks Voices of Inspiration, Rivers of Life Church of Brandon, FL | December 31, 2016
feat. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mann Center | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
feat. the Ithca College Symphony Orchestra | September 26, 2015 | Co-presented with Ithaca College | Download concert program here
Presented in support of the Washington National Opera's Lost in the Stars, featuring VUSA-Voices from Southern Africa, The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | Saturday, February 13, 2016 | Co-presented with Washington National Opera
The Kennedy Center Grand Foyer | Sunday, November 15, 2015
A Target family night holiday concert featuring four diverse musical families ('local von Trapps') performing music ranging from classical and jazz to Hispanic, inspirational and yuletide songs. Featuring the Chong, Ottley, Leyva and Davies families. The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | Wednesday, December 9, 2015
feat. the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra and various D.C.-based school performance ensembles | Alice Deal Middle School | March 23, 2015 | Co-presented with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities
An Americans for the Arts concert event feat. the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra and NEWorks Voices of America, The Kennedy Center Concert Hall | March 23, 2015 | Presented with Americans for the Arts
feat. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Marvin Sapp, Mann Center | July 20, 2014 | Co-presented with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
A global concert of peace on The National Mall | August 10, 2013 | Co-presented with the Mayor's Office, D.C. Commission on the Arts, and Desho Productions
feat. the NEWorks Voices of Inspiration and Soundarie David Rodrigo, the Residence of the Ambassador of India to the U.S. | August 9, 2013 | Co-presented with Ambassador Nirupama Rao, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Desho Productions
Featuring the NEWorks Voices of Inspiration. Presented as part of The Kennedy Center's festival, "Voices of Our Nation: Celebrating the Choral Tradition." The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage | June 2014
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center | December 14-15, 2012 | Click here for more info
feat. the National Symphony Orchestra and NEWorks Voices of Inspiration, THEARC | January 2012 | Co-presented with the National Symphony Orchestra
A concert raising awareness about health disparities feat. various artists, hosted by Malik Yoba | The Historic Lincoln Theatre | Co-presented with the American Cancer Society
feat. the National Symphony Orchestra and NEWorks Voices of Inspiration, THEARC | January 2011 | Co-presented with the National Symphony Orchestra