Music with a message

“Martin and Music” explores relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and music


POST PERFORMANCE: Charles Holt, half of the duo that performs “Martin and Music,” greets Ferris State University students after the production at Williams Auditorium on Tuesday. (Pioneer photos/Lauren Fitch)

BIG RAPIDS – Combining Southern spirituals with the universal truths repeated throughout Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and sermons, “Martin and Music” used a unique format to transform words spoken decades ago into a message relevant today.

Starring Gerald Rivers and Chris Holt, “Martin and Music” came Tuesday to Ferris State University as the featured event in the Office of Multicultural Student Services’ month-long Black History Month celebration. The production has traveled to universities, prisons, homeless shelters and senior citizen facilities across the country.

SPIRITUAL SONGS: Charles Holt performs a traditional Southern hymn during “Martin and Music” at Ferris on Tuesday. The performance showed the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and the music association with the Civil Right Movement.

Rivers, who has spent almost 30 years portraying King and committed more than 20 of King’s speeches to memory, recited excerpts from speeches and sermons, intermixed with anecdotes from his and Holt’s lives. Holt, a vocalist who has starred in Broadway productions, performed traditional African American spiritual songs that corresponded with King’s words.

“Too often we forget that at the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement and what Dr. King initiated in the South was music,” Holt said. “As the students would march – and even sometimes be thrown in jail – these songs would become the underlying principle of what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.”

In addition to serving as a rallying cry for those involved in the movement, music also motivated King personally, Rivers said.

“I can see Dr. King now as he stood at the pulpit and he would hear some of his favorite songs,” he said. “You could literally watch him be transformed right before his audience to a place where all things were possible, regardless of the situation or the circumstances. He was transformed and transported by music.”

Despite the hardships and challenges King faced, he stayed focused on serving others and fostering peace, love and equality. Rivers and Holt shared the impact that message had on them personally and how it led to the start of “Martin and Music” two years ago. King’s words, voiced in the ’50s and ’60s, also impacted Ferris students and other community members who attended “Martin and Music.”

“It was very nice, very touching,” said Aundrea Jenkins, a sophomore at Ferris. “It made me think about some things. I’ve never seen a show like that.”

RECITING HISTORY: Gerald Rivers, of “Martin and Music,” gets into character as Martin Luther King Jr. He has memorized more than 20 of King’s speeches, and he shared some excepts during a performance at Ferris.

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