A half century after his death, the name Martin Luther King Jr. still resonates with many, evoking thoughts of struggle, deliverance and joy even in times of distress, inequality and pain. In honour of the late civil rights leader, American recording artist and multi-instrumentalist, Damien Sneed will bring his production of We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Théâtre Maisonneuve in Place des Arts on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Inspired by the words and actions of Dr. King, We Shall Overcome is intended to be a joyous celebration of the man and his work, with music culled from a vast, traditional African American repertoire that inspired generations of civil rights activists, interwoven with spoken word from King’s recorded speeches.
The seeds of We Shall Overcome were planted a full two years before the production began its initial 36-date tour in January 2019. This second, 42-date tour, appropriately begins today, on January 15 — King’s birthday.
“I had just done a show in New York City — a tribute to Martin Luther King — and people loved it,” said Sneed during a recent telephone interview from his base in New York City. “We then invited some performing arts agencies. They came, they saw, they fell in love with it and wanted to take it on the road.”
All the music, said Sneed, deals with the theme of protest and reconciliation, tying together a lineage of culture that includes traditional and modern gospel, classical, jazz, musical theatre and spirituals, from Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington to Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and even music from The Wiz, the 1978 reimagining of The Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast that included Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.
Joining Sneed on stage will be a nine-piece ensemble of hand-picked multi-genre vocalists and instrumentalists. “All the musicians are friends of mine and the singers are people that I have worked with in the past.”
Sneed said he conceived the show for a varied audience who might not know King’s entire history. “From children to octogenarians, senior citizens and people from all demographics, all races, all walks of life and cultures.”
Sneed also added that the message delivered is a universal one. “Understanding that they can overcome anything — not just racial disparities and social injustice but anything. For example, I was adopted and had to overcome rejection. So it’s knowing and understanding that the power of music can heal and unify, and that it’s a universal language.”
The show begins at 8 p.m. For more info, visit placedesarts.com/en/event/we-shall-overcome-celebration-dr-martin-luther-king-jr