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A Living Legend in Civil Rights
inspires a toe-tapping musical
New York, February 16, 2006 -- Dr. Dorothy I. Height, civil rights icon, mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and chair-emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, is 93 and not about to slow down.
Now the redoubtable Height gives form and inspiration to a new venue: a rousing, toe-tapping musical "of passion, power and triumph."
If This Hat Could Talk -- a title depicting Height's stalwart eloquence and elegant headwear -- is touring this spring. (Click here for venues and dates.) The musical is produced by VanJo Productions, Washington, D.C., and presented by Verizon.
The show is playing to enthusiastic reviews. "I was hardly prepared for the transforming power of this truly great work," says the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, who saw the musical last October in New York's Apollo Theater.
The musical is also attracting the attention of young people whose sole knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement is from history books.
"We are excited about the way young people have responded to the musical," says Dr. Vanessa Weaver-Coleman, Chief Executive Officer of VanJo Productions. "Some people were worried that the hip-hop generation wouldn't enjoy the gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz of the show's songs. But they dance in their seats."
The education component of the musical is its Youth for Excellence Initiative, which provides youth with free tickets, lunch and opportunities to quiz the cast, crew and Director/Choreographer George W. Faison, a Tony Award winner.
Faison also wrote the book for the musical. Joe Coleman, President of VanJo and Weaver-Coleman's spouse -- and lead vocalist of The Platters -- wrote the music and lyrics. Coleman also performs in the musical. Grammy winner Stephanie Mills portrays Height.
The musical's performers play multiple roles; one, for example, portrays John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover and a Freedom Rider.
The story opens with the 1963 March on Washington and tells the story of Height's life and activism. Other characters who take the stage include Mary McLeod Bethune, A. Philip Randolph. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. In one scene, Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz, Myrlie Evers, Jackie Kennedy and Marie Reeb sing, "Widows of the Struggle."
"Their stories deserve to be told and retold in each generation," Edgar says. "What a powerful and timely message for our young people today."
Height, the first recipient in 2004 of the NCC's J. Irwin Miller Award for Excellence in Unity, Peace and Justice, is the last living senior organizer of the 1963 "I Have a Dream" march on Washington. She is one of America's most significant African-American Civil Rights strategists and has influenced the policies addressing the rights of women and their families for eleven U.S. Presidents and many international leaders.
In addition to her friendship with King, she also worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 1998 and the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by President Bush, in 2004.
"I have co-labored over many years with Dr. Height on civil and human rights issues," Edgar recalls, "and I never cease to be amazed by her energy and unflagging commitment to social justice."
Edgar is encouraging pastors and community leaders "to get as many people to the showings as possible."
March 29 April 2 -
Norfolk Attucks Theatre
Contact VanJo Productions, 202-544-1125
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