This year’s theme is “Sing a New Song,” which is exactly what will happen at the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge’s Sounds of Comm-UNITY Concert on Sunday, May 3.
The event will mark its 25th anniversary at 4 p.m. at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church with a new song written especially for the occasion.
“Because it’s the 25th anniversary, we wanted to figure out a way to pay tribute to the memory of our past president, Dr. Charles Smith, who founded the concert series, ” says the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, executive director of the federation. “So, we wanted to invite children and young people to take part. We’ll be passing the torch to the next generation.”
Smith, who pastored Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for 50 years, died on Sept. 11, 2012, a few months after retiring at age 80. One of those young people is Southern University student Ariel Pierre, who won first place in the federation’s Music Composition Competition for Composers Under Age 26. Pierre’s song, “We Need Peace,” will be featured at the concert.
Other new music that debuted at the concert include Robert Kyr’s intricate choral work, “Waging Peace” from the 2013 concert, and Everrett Parker’s “Glimpses of Hope,” composed for the 1993 event.
Parker’s song will be reprised for the May 3 event, which also will include performances by the McKinley High School Gospel Choir, the Children’s Handbell Choir and groups from Beth Shalom Synagogue, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, St. Augustine Catholic Church and Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
More than 100 groups have performed at the concert since it started in 1991.
The organization, known at the time as the Federation of Churches and Synagogues, staged the show as a fundraiser for its projects, including the Holy Grill, which provides lunch each weekday for residents in the Zion City area. The federation’s mission is to “cultivate interfaith understanding and cooperation to reduce human suffering in Greater Baton Rouge.”
And it’s this spirit that brings together a diverse group of ethnic and religious backgrounds for this performance.
“There were Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and gospel choirs represented in the first year,” McCullough-Bade says. “And the fact that it started out in the Centroplex (now the River Center) was an ambitious undertaking. It stayed at the Centroplex for the first five years before it started moving to different locations.”
“We’ve been in a bunch of different places and a lot of different churchs,” says the Rev. Ralph Howe Jr., who served as the federation’s president in 1996. “You see people there from different congregations. I go to the concerts and see people that I’ve connected with because of this organization, people from Jewish congregations and predominantly black churches. That’s the thing I love about this organization and these concerts — the relationships we build.”
Howe is the senior associate rector and day school chaplain at St. James Episcopal Church. He was joined at the federation office on this day by past presidents Victor Sachse and Joyce Robinson.
Sachse is owner of Centaur Records in Baton Rouge and presided over the federation in 2001. Robinson was president in 2005.
“I remember the first concert,” Robinson says. “It was spirit-led and spiritual, and it gave you a dynamic about who you were as a part of this organization.”
“I know there were people who thought that there was a great probability that this concert would serve only as a cathartic function for the federation members, but by contrast, this concert helped people and made things happen,” Sachse says.