Fresh from their debut concert at the White House, the Wilberforce University choir will be in Philadelphia on Sunday, Dec. 18 to sing Handel’s Messiah with the Mother Bethel Cathedral Choir along with the choir from Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.
More than 100 voices will fill the historic, concert hall-like cathedral at 6 p.m. at Mother Bethel located at 419 S. Sixth St. in Philadelphia.
The Handel’s Messiah Concert is free and open to the public and overflow parking is available.
Handel’s Messiah will be lead by Mother Bethel’s classically trained music director Maestro M. Barry Currington.
Wilberforce University is currently on tour and will be performing a special concert at the White House on Friday. On their way back to Ohio, the students will stop in Philadelphia to take part in Handel’s Messiah.
Mother Bethel is also pleased to welcome the choir from Metropolitan AME Church, the AME Church’s “National Cathedral.”
Metropolitan is bringing more than 70 of its choir members. Mother Bethel has presented this free Handel’s Messiah concert every year for the past five years.
This year is expected to be the biggest in the church’s history.
Northwest Philadelphia native Abu Edwards is a proactive young man. He was among those who had a strong academic showing and earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Wilberforce University recently.
As a member of the student government at the historically Black college, Edwards was asked to speak on a panel at nearby Central State University about the importance of young people paying attention to the new voter ID laws.
While on the panel Edwards quickly realized the students on his campus needed this information.
“Basically, since I was involved in student government I was asked to speak at Central State University, which is across the street from Wilberforce,” said Edwards, a graduate of Fulton Elementary School and Parkway High School. “As I talked about voting rights and the importance of voting I began to think that we needed some voter education at Wilberforce. We had a lot of students from Pennsylvania and they would be affected by the new voter ID laws, too.”
Edwards organized a massive voter outreach campaign at Wilberforce. His campus team gained attention for the distinction of collecting the most “Pledge to Vote” cards in Ohio last April.
“We were successful in Ohio and now that I’m back home in Pennsylvania I will continue to educate about voting,” Edwards said.
Now, Edwards is spending his time back home in northwest Philadelphia registering voters and educating young people about the need to have photo identification documents at the poll. Every morning he wakes up early and engages in this volunteer effort while simultaneously looking for employment.
Edwards said one of his primary motivating forces is the passage of health care reform, which allowed him to stay on his parent’s health insurance until he’s 26 as long as he continues his education and the increase in Pell grants which made college more affordable for him.
“I think it’s important for African Americans to understand that there’s a long history and struggle in our right to vote,” said Edwards when he spoke to a group of seniors at the Morris E. Leeds Military Academy in Philadelphia’s Cedarbrook section recently. “We had to fight for this right. That’s why it’s important that we understand who is running and who is out there fighting for you, not just at election time.
“Now the fact that many college students get to stay on their parents’ health insurance for six months to a year after they graduate, or if they are in school can stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26, is important,” he added. “Without Pell grants many students could not attend or continue to attend college. These are the (by-products) of votes that we casted. That’s why I am spending my summer educating and registering voters.”
Yemi Akanbi urges listeners to enjoy life
Born in Oyo State, Nigeria, and raised in Ohio, Yemi Akanbi has been singing since she was a little girl. As a songwriter and performer, Akanbi uses Philadelphia as her playground.
Akanbi’s father used to make home videos of her and her sisters dressed up and singing as little girls.
After singing in church and joining the choir in college at Wilberforce University in Ohio, she began to take singing more seriously. Shortly after college in 2004, Akanbi decided to move to Philadelphia to be with her sister and take in all the art the city had to offer. She began working for the African American museum and became impressed with city’s art culture.
“I love the city and arts scene and not even just the visual arts,” she said. “Just driving to the city and seeing all the murals, I knew people had appreciation here.”
Akanbi began attending open mic events around the city and sang every opportunity she got.
Through her work at the African American museum, she became involved in the CODA (Community! Outreach! Development! Achievement!) program, a music education program. She enjoyed teaching music and appreciated the efforts in providing a strong music presence in schools.
“I was teaching music lessons, teaching music history classes and all kinds of stuff,” she said. “I’ve given tons of music workshops in the museum — I’m very into teaching music.”
The museum turned out to be a great way for Akanbi to network with people connected to the arts.
Through another arts organization she was involved in, she met a few staff members from Art Sanctuary, a venue used to celebrate the power of Black art. She stayed in connection with Art Sanctuary and was invited to perform at their monthly live music showcase last Friday.
Akanbi performed an array of songs, including a few of her originals like “Go Slow” and “Jo Jo Lo”.
“Go Slow” describes the importance of taking time to appreciate the beauty on earth. She describes it as a play on words, since the phrase “go slow” in Nigeria refers to being stuck in traffic.
“It’s playing on the idea of feeling like your stuck — like stuck in traffic — but it’s important to just enjoy and stop trying to rush,” she said. “It’s an afro-beat track”
With a band by her side, Akanbi played a variety of music for the guests at Art Sanctuary. She mixes different music styles and came up with the phrase “afro-folk-soul” to best describe her sound.
Akanbi has found a passion for performing and teaching music. Incorporating cultural and traditional songs she was raised with, music and art will continue to be a part of her life. She believes it is important for people to have an appreciation for a variety of music and not just what they hear on the radio.
“If you are an appreciator of music and you love it, I think that music can only reflect life.”