Fort Worth Opera and Unity Unlimited Celebrate Juneteenth With 94-Year-Old Social Impact Leader Ms. Opal Lee
See full Broadway World article by Stephi Wild here.
Today, Fort Worth Opera (FWO) partnered with Unity Unlimited to present a star-studded Juneteenth Jamboree in downtown Fort Worth as part of 94-year-old social impact leader Ms. Opal Lee's historic 2.5-mile walk. Before the parade began, hundreds of supporters gathered at Evans Avenue Plaza in the Historic Southside neighborhood to join the "Grandmother of Juneteenth" on her annual walk to the Tarrant County Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth. Today's event was all the more celebratory in light of Juneteenth finally becoming nationally recognized as a U.S. federal holiday earlier this week, the culmination of a lifetime of passion, dedication, and advocacy put forth by Ms. Lee.
FWO's Juneteenth Jamboree kicked off in front of Bass Performance Hall, as powerhouse bass Keron Jackson performed a thrilling four-song set while the parade passed. Ms. Lee was so inspired by his delivery of Nina Simone's iconic song, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," that she broke out into a joyous dance on Commerce Street as the crowd loudly applauded around her. The procession then moved onward to the lawn of Fort Worth's Tarrant County Courthouse, where a stage was set up in front of the landmark building's granite steps.
Fort Worth Opera General Director, Afton Battle, welcomed the crowd, thanking Ms. Opal Lee, Unity Unlimited, Visit Fort Worth, and others for making this momentous day possible. Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, Choir Soloist and Director of Juneteenth Jamboree lead the FWO Gospel Ensemble in rousing renditions of Mary Mary's hit "Can't Give Up Now," and Annie Lennox's "Step by Step," made famous by Whitney Houston in the film, The Preacher's Wife. Once again, Ms. Lee joined in on the festivities, dancing and singing along.
Following the FWO Gospel Ensemble's set, Southern Methodist University (SMU) Master of Music student, soprano Alexandria Jackson, treated the audience to a gorgeous reading of "Summertime" from the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, with 20-year-old pianist, composer, and arranger Tahja Belin at the keyboard. Sonorous bass Seth Clarke, also a student at SMU, then wowed the crowd with the traditional spiritual, "My Soul is a Witness." The concert concluded with a stunning, genre-defying opera meets jazz performance of "Wade in the Water" by Audra Scott, award-winning international soprano and Head of Vocal Studies at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas.
Following the Juneteenth Jamboree, Ms. Opal Lee addressed the cheering crowd saying, "Together, we can conquer the world." As she was presented with a painting, one of the most beloved songs of the Civil Rights Movement, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," often referred to as the Black National Anthem, was sung by all, while a Juneteenth flag was hoisted high in the air on this historic occasion.