By Stephanie C. Woodson
Special to Frost Illustrated
FORT WAYNE—On June 29, 2013, The World Champion Voices of Unity Youth Choir (VOU) displayed its champion abilities in the form of an electrifying performance at the Arts United Center downtown. “Alive Again: a Tribute to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston,” was the choir’s 11th annual Spring Concert.
Two completely sold out shows proved this concert was a much-anticipated event in the city of Fort Wayne; and it delivered full force, with 14 musical numbers! The choir, composed of youth ages six through 19, alumni members and adult mentors, joined forces with local dance company, SheeKriStyle Academy of Dance Arts, and featured local professional recording artists Wayne Starks and sisters Niyoki Nero and Mikki White. This performance provided something enjoyable for all the senses. Beautiful music, dancing and oratory presentations made the audience believe the late Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were indeed, “alive again.” The concert included a perfect blend of soulful musical genres including Pop, R&B and Gospel. The audience was able to hear some of their favorite Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston classics.
For most people, it would be an intimidating task to take on the music of such widely-known musical geniuses, but this was not so for this youth soulful choral group. They took on the challenge in true champion fashion.
The show opened with dramatic monologues presented by three VOU students, Deven Bridges, Asia Cobbins and David Alvarez. The spotlight shone on each student as they individually paid homage to the great musical icons by sharing insight to the lives they lived. As Mr. Alvarez finished his last line, the curtain rose and exposed dozens of students in dazzling outfits with bright smiles on their faces. Their energy, along with the great music, immediately captivated the audience. Guest soloist Peggy Latimore and dancers from SheeKriStyle aided in creating an atmosphere of celebration with the first song, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” recorded by Whitney Houston. This song set the tone for what was sure to be a fantastic first half of the concert.
The next song, “I’ll Be There,” was a definite showstopper, as eight-year-old VOU member Kendal Gaston made his singing stage debut. He made the audience believe he was a young Michael Jackson as the lead singer. Kendal’s big voice, along with his big Afro wig was a crowd pleaser. He really knew how to charm the audience as he spun around and slid on his knees singing the familiar tune. Recording artist Wayne Starks mesmerized the crowd with his rendition of “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson, and Deja Latimore channeled her inner dancing machine as she moonwalked across the stage and sang “Billie Jean.” Sisters, Niyoki Nero and Mikki White invoked emotion as they sang “Count on Me” by Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans.
The first half of the show came to an astounding end as UNITY alumnus Matthew Griffin amazed the crowd in singing and dancing to “Smooth Criminal.” The special effects, videography, choreography and lighting added a special touch to the performance. The young people on the stage maintained a high level of confidence and professionalism as they sang and danced with each song. Emotion flowed from their hearts and reached the audience, as they continuously reacted cheerfully.
The second half did not disappoint. It was just as amazing as the first half of the show. It opened with a powerful song and dance routine entitled “They Don’t Care About Us,” performed by Matthew Griffin and the SheeKriStyle dancers. Jocelyn Redmond shocked the audience with her performance of “One Moment in Time,” as she noticeably studied and imitated the graceful mannerisms of Whitney Houston, and sang the song just as beautifully as if it had been Whitney on stage herself. Matthew Griffin and the SheeKriStyle dancers joined VOU on stage again, for another crowd favorite, “Thriller.” The costumes and the choreography stayed true to the original 1983 music video.
By the end of the concert, the choir had already received several standing ovations and roaring applauses. It was evident that many hours had been spent investing in making sure this was a top-notch performance. It was indeed nothing short of excellent. The concert ended with Whitney Houston’s last recorded song “Celebrate,” from the motion-picture soundtrack, “Sparkle.” The song was written by R. Kelly and recorded by Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks. Two of VOU’s little upcoming stars, Kennitha Somkit, nine, and Aryanna Swopshire, 10, performed in their musical stage debut.
VOU wants to know if Fort Wayne is hungry for more! If you would like to see an encore presentation of “Alive Again,” UNITY invites you to leave your comments on their website www.upaf.com as well as their Facebook page, “Upaf Fort Wayne.” UNITY also advises all who wish to see an encore performance to purchase tickets well in advance, as it is sure to be another sell-out event.
Stephanie C. Woodson is a Voice of UNITY alumna.
This article originally appeared in the July 31 print edition.