In its third appearance on the South Fork, Songs of Solomon, an inspirational youth ensemble that has performed with the likes of Elton John and Jessye Norman, will take center stage at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor on Saturday. The performance is a benefit for the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center.
Songs of Solomon has toured this country, South Africa, and Bermuda, and was the first-place winner of the McDonald’s-sponsored “Gospelfest” and the Pathmark supermarkets’ gospel choir competitions. But the rewards are far greater than that for Chantel Renee Wright, the teacher and choral director who founded the group nine years ago.
According to its Web site, “Songs of Solomon’s choral ensemble is a Harlem-based performing company and preparatory program, dedicated to fostering musical excellence.” The not-for-profit organization offers a safe haven for youths ages 13 to 21, who are predominantly African-American and Latino.
Ms. Wright is fiercely dedicated to music, which, she said, “is not an ornamental accessory to education.”
Both of the group’s two previous performances here were at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton. Ms. Wright was hesitant at first at the reception her singers might receive.
“Traditionally, it’s a crowd that doesn’t think it will walk away with anything, because they already have so much,” she said. “I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, because it is such a gift to look out at that crowd and see tears in their eyes. They didn’t expect anything, but by the end they looked as if they got something that superseded anything they expected.”
Songs of Solomon has appeared at Radio City Music Hall, and is a yearly staple at Carnegie Hall’s Honor Choral Music Festival, conducted by Craig Jessop, the former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and curated by Ms. Norman, the internationally famous opera singer.
The ensemble performs hymns and other inspirational music as a reflection of the African diaspora, which not only refers to the scattering and decentralization of an ethnicity, but also celebrates great musical works of classical and jazz composers.
The Songs of Solomon Web site features a touching testimonial from a former group member, Vernon Riley, who has since gone on to graduate with high honors from Yale University. He recalls the first time he met Ms. Wright:
“I thought to myself, ‘Who is this crazy lady?’ . . . Maybe it was that she was trying to teach a bunch of ill-behaved, young black men a piece of classical choral music that none of us thought we’d ever learn, or maybe it was that she demanded that we wear perfectly manicured tuxedos at every performance, or that she expected us, in every way, to break the limits that so many other people had set for us.”
“That day I learned that by misbehaving and acting out we were feeding into the stereotype that society had placed on us as black men — we were rowdy, unteachable, and would amount to next to nothing. This is what was expected of us, and exactly what we were doing. If we wanted to get ahead in this world, she revealed to us, we had to work doubly hard because we had so many strikes against us already.”
Ms. Wright is the recipient of the New York Times’s Teachers Who Matter Most award, the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble Community Service award, and the Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Community Service award. She is listed in “Who’s Who Among American Teachers.”
Songs of Solomon came to the attention of Bonnie Cannon, executive director of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, at the Gospel Music Workshop of America three years ago. “They blew me away. I knew then that someday I’d get them out here.”
Ms. Wright said on Monday that the program in Sag Harbor would include both traditional and inspirational selections, along with anthems, but that there would be secular music, too. Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield are two of the songs that are sure to have the audience tapping its feet.
The Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center was started in 1949 following a house fire that killed children who had been left unattended while their parents, migrant farm workers, were in the fields. It was the first migrant-based child care center in the United States.
Today, the center continues to serve the community, offering after-school programs, a low-cost summer camp, and adult classes such as English as a second language. It also offers adult high-school diploma courses and hosts a Head Start program for preschoolers from Montauk to Westhampton.
The center’s Web site is bhccrc.com. Tickets to see and hear Songs of Solomon are available through Bonnie Cannon, 537-0616. The tickets cost $35. The show will start at 7 p.m., followed by a reception.
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without a major capital campaign each year.
“Having a permanent place that the theater owned would be a great help to our capital campaign,” he said. “We just need to find an alternate space in Sag Harbor.”
He pointed out that the theater brings “an enormous amount of income into the town. We have 150 to 300 people per night” during the season. “Those people want to eat, to shop, to see the sights.”
There has been an offer to Bay Street from Mark Epley, the Mayor of Southampton Village, to take over the lease on the Parrish Museum building. Mr. Davis acknowledged the generosity of the offer. “We are certainly keeping all of our possibilities open,” he said. “But our goal is to stay in Sag Harbor. We love this town and love being a part of it.”