BY MISHA DAVENPORT | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Sujari Britt has been called a cello virtuoso, has played Carnegie Hall, and for President Obama at the White House at his request. But the 13-year-old New York musician says it is still a thrill and a privilege to be asked to perform with the Chicago Sinfonietta for their annual concert tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19.
“I am thrilled to be part of this concert and participate in the larger discussion about race, ethnicity, appearance, orientation and all the other human characteristics that continue to challenge each and every one of us,” Britt says.
Also on the bill with Britt are 17-year-old African-American composer/conductor Jherrard Marseille Hardeman, spoken word poets from Young Chicago Authors and the Waubonsie Valley High School Mosaic Choir. The concert will be led by Sinfonietta music director Mei-Ann Chen. The event opens with Chicago actor and orator Wayne K. Woods in a dramatic recitation of part of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Britt has been playing musical instruments since she could walk. At the age of 3, she says she heard Yo-Yo Ma play the cello and knew that was the instrument for her.
“It took a year to convince my parents, but I finally got my first cello at age four and I have been playing it ever since.”
Now in college, Britt says most people want to know how long she practices, but she always has trouble answering.
“Even now, when I’m supposed to keep track of how much I’m practicing for college, it’s hard for me to think about it,” Britt says. “It’s an extension of my being and of my voice. I could no sooner tell you how many hours a day I use my right or left hand.”
Her dedication and passion has made her a much sought-after musician. Britt jumped at the chance to do the Chicago gig because she says that events such as the Sinfonietta’s are important to preserve the legacy of Dr. King and so much more.
“I think it is unfortunate that MLK’s message is necessary today,” she says. “There have been Civil Rights advances, but you only have to turn on the news to know that there is still racial and ethnic tension in this county and events like this keep the discussion going.”
Britt will be playing one of her favorite pieces, Camille Saint-Saens’ Concerto for Violoncello, No.1, op. 33 in A Minor.
“It’s a perfect fit for the theme of the day,” she says. “It’s a strong and energetic piece with intense emotions and highs and lows.”
“It tells a story,” she adds. “You can go through all these vast emotions and end in a sort of peaceful way.”
NOTE: The Chicago Sinfonietta performs its annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Wentz Concert Hall of North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Avenue, Naperville, Jan. 18 at 3 p.m.; and at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.chicagosinfonietta.org
Other events marking MLK Day around town include:
“Justice is Ours,” The African American Arts Alliance of Chicago’s 4th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark. Tickets, $12. www.aaaachicago.org. Pre-show reception at 6 p.m. followed by performances by Sketch N’ Time, The Robbert Reddrick Trio, Alexis Rogers, Red Clay Dance, RIZE Youth Dance Company and more.
“The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights,” Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark, 10:30 a.m. Jan. 19, free (includes free museum admission, too). A multi-media performance art piece, “The MLK Project” interlaces personal interviews of Chicago-based Civil Rights activists including Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs (co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History), Reverend Jesse Jackson and Puerto Rican poet/activist David Hernandez, among others. Visit www.chicagohistory.org
“Reflecting on the Dream: #Black Lives Matter,” the DuSable Museum’s Martin Luther King Holiday Celebration, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Jan. 19 at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. Tickets, $10. Visit www.dusablemuseum.org. The day-long event features actors portraying Civil Rights icons such as Andrew Young, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer and more.
The Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Black Creativity Juried Art Exhibit, Jan. 19-Feb. 22 at the museum, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive. It’s also Free Family Day (for Illinois residents) on Jan. 19 and there will be facilitated, hands-on workshops hourly from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The longest-running exhibit of African-American art, the Black Creativity Juried Art Exhibit features more than 100 dynamic art works from professional and amateur African-American artists from around the country. Visit msichicago.org.
“Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till,” 2 p.m. Jan. 18 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N, Skokie, Skokie. Tickets, $10. Visit northshorecenter.org. The Chicago-area premiere of Mike Wiley’s one-man show, this 105-minute production uses actual testimonies and first-hand accounts surrounding the events of Till’s murder.
“What Does It Mean, Dr. King,” 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand. Free with museum admission ($14). Visit www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org.
“Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” returns for the 10th year to the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, Jan 17-18. The jazz/blue/swing/gospel reinvention of Handel’s “Messiah” features Rodrick Dixon, Alfreda Burke and Karen Marie Richardson, a 50-piece symphony orchestra and 100-person choir. “We continue to be enlightened by the show’s spirit and message of peace. It has become a city-wide celebration of the legacy of a great American — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Brett Batterson, the executive director of the Auditorium Theatre in a statement. Tickets, $25-$70, are available at auditoriumtheatre.org.
Misha Davenport is a local freelance writer.