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NPR Arts & Life

An Ode To MLK At The Excelsior Club

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When the Excelsior Club opened in 1944 it was the area’s first African American-owned club. It soon became a center for African American social and political activity in the Charlotte area.

On Sunday the club honored Martin Luther King Junior with a concert. It brought together an eclectic mix of music and people as an ode to the civil rights leader.

The concert in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. was called "Bridging Musical Worlds." It brought together members of the Charlotte Symphony with local jazz group, A Sign of the Times.

Meg Whalen helped start the first concert four years ago while working with the Charlotte Symphony.

“The initial mission was to demonstrate that there is not such a wide gulf between the kind of music that is played by an ensemble like the Charlotte Symphony and the kind of music that is played by a jazz ensemble like A Sign of the Times," says Whalen, "and to demonstrate that those two kinds of music really have a lot in common and so do the people who listen to them.”

Each group started out with the standard repertoire. On the classics side, they played Mozart and Beethoven. On the jazz side, A Sign of the Times played a rendition of Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit."

And then toward the end of the night the traditions came together in honor of King’s teachings.

“It’s not like a jam but it’s listening to one other," says A Sign of the Times drummer, Tommy Green. "We listen, and when we listen we can make beautiful music together and listen to each other play off what each other do. And not overplay, and not under play but just be right there."

Symphony musicians took style tips from the jazz artists and even finished the night with some uncharacteristic improvisation.

Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.