The event, a benefit for the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, was held tonight at St. Pauls Church. It featured performances by opera legend Jessye Norman, Jazz at Lincoln Center alumni Damien Sneed and Wycliffe Gordon, Broadway actress DeAdre Aziza, pianist Mark Markham and vocalist Lawrence Hamilton. Although each found fame on the international stage, several of the artists, including Ms. Norman, Mr. Sneed, Mr. Gordon and Ms. Aziza, have ties to Augusta.
The talent here is incredible, said new Symphony Orchestra Augusta music director Shizuo Z Kuwahara, making one of his first appearances on the Augusta music scene. This is so great.
The concert opened with a performance of the Sound of Music standard Climb Every Mountain. The song, which featured a virtuosic display of Ms. Normans singular talent, also served as something of a mission statement. The performances that followed Ms. Azizas monologues punctuated by smokey jazz classics, Mr. Gordons ode to Aint Misbehavin all revolved around the things that initially brought each artist to music and those things that continue to inspire them. Throughout the evening, Ms. Norman preached the gospel of both the concert and the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
Its so important that these children know that they have this inner voice, Ms. Norman said. Its a voice we want to hear when they sing for us. A voice we want to hear when they dance for us, when the paint and perform for us. Its so important.
Just as Climb Every Mountain set the tone for the first act, Ms. Norman sent a clear message with the first two numbers of the second act, Youll Never Walk Alone from Carousel and Somewhere from West Side Story. She followed the anthems of self-worth and realization with a plea to the audience to support the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
Its easy to see something like this being done, she said. Its easy to watch, to observe. But we need to help them, help these students, help this school.
The performance also featured a light-hearted duet with Ms. Norman and baritone Lawrence Hamilton. The evening wrapped with a full ensemble version of Amazing Grace with Ms. Norman singing the lead.