Big talent comes in small packages. And big names come out to support it.
Parents do, too, of course. Along with band directors representing a few of the 14 schools whose students played and sang their hearts out at the Unity Concert presented by the How Big Is Your Dream Foundation and the Ken Ford Foundation on Saturday, March 23, at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center.
The foundations were founded by Jorel “JFly” Flynn and Ken Ford, respectively.
The second annual concert is a fundraiser that supports the two foundations. The groups aim to help kids explore their musical talents, and guide the kids on how to navigate careers in music and maximize their life’s potential.
Clearly, these young folks are on their way. They showered the standing-room-only crowd of about 500 with a variety of performances, from Booker T. Washington’s drum line to a trombone trio to a flute player named Summer.
Before the Video Blankets hit the stage, the evening’s host, Sasha The Diva from KISS 104.1 and B98.5, said they were reminiscent of the Jackson 5. True to her claim, the trio didn’t skip a beat when the mics wouldn’t work. It was almost as if the crowd wasn’t sure if a technical difficulty had occurred because frontman JT sang so strong and confidently. He kept his composure like a pro — as did his sister Lexie with her perfectly coordinated rockin’ out dance moves, and baby brother DJ on the drums.
But Sasha wasn’t having it. A quarter of the way through the song, she interrupted “because we need to hear the children.”
She would have earned her pay with that move. (Actually, her stunning dress might have been worth the cost of admission.) But when she freestyled it, buying the sound guys some time to fix the mic malfunction — that was worth a bonus.
Sasha stepped offstage and chatted up folks in the audience about everything from fixing her computer to asking a lovely Brooklynite to sing — and she did so well that Sasha offered to hook her up with an opening slot for the upcoming Anthony Hamilton and Jeffrey Osborne show.
Later, a ninth-grader did Whitney Houston justice with her version of “I Have Nothing,” and the “king of strings” led his Ken Ford Symphony through two selections. Never have stringed instruments produced such head-noddin’ sounds. Or been played in such a “get low” position.
And that was all before intermission.
Special guests made up the bulk of the show’s second half. Introduced by JFly, the guests included:
- Trumpeteer Joey Sommerville and vocalist Gwen Hughes, serving as ambassadors for the Grammy Foundation, and encouraging schools to apply for foundation funds
- Ken Ford Foundation board chairman Larry Johnson
- DeKalb County District 3 Commissioner Larry Johnson
- Frank Clark, chair of the Georgia Tech School of Music, who showcased a couple of the school’s music-sensing and -playing robots
- Porter Sanford’s executive director David Manuel, who expressed pride than the venue was 90 percent booked for the rest of the year, but had quite the punchline in his request for financial support
JFly got a bit choked up when talking about how too often black males are seen on the front page of newspapers and on TV for disrespectful or criminal acts. He tearfully thanked his mother and father, who were in attendance, for keeping him on the straight and narrow. A birthday serenade to JFly led by his wife and the crowd followed.
Yes, the man was working hard, but doing what he loves on his birthday.
Before long, it was back to the music, with Abyss doing a bit of “spoken word on steroids” backed by the 630 Band.
Najee was up next, delighting the crowd with his flute as JT from Video Blankets nailed Tevin Campbell’s “Tomorrow.”
It was a sweet number that only made Rahbi’s appearance that much … stickier.
As for the “adult” entertainment, Rahbi was by far the evening’s highlight. Before getting warmed up, he requested the crowd take a couple Instagram shots and let their friends know a “fine young man” was on stage. They would have been wise to do so.
Rahbi packed into one slight frame all the performance power of an orchestra. And with class, too. He toned down the sex appeal just enough, but like a true tease, left us wanting more. One young lady behind me said it all: “Oh no he didn’t!” Yes, ma’am, he did.
Seeing a quartet of horns including Najee (this time on sax), Sommerville, and the educators-by-day PR Experience crew came in a close second. Their exchanges felt like a jazz jam full of quick thinking and deep layers, without the jazz club pretension.
Trina Broussard did a stand-up job of Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I’ve Got,” followed by the song most folks probably know her for, the Minnie Riperton remake of “Inside My Love” that appeared on the Love Jones soundtrack. It’s interesting how you can tell the karaoke-solid singers from the road- and stage-tested career vocalists. Broussard makes that difference clear.
Ken Ford and his symphony closed out the night, literally letting their hair down. What better way to express the freedom that music brings. It was an appropriate ending for a night all about making the freedom of music real. You could see it in the way the kids held their instruments, the joy in their faces. And, of course, their parents’ faces, too.