Ivan Griffin, a world-renowned classical bass-baritone, will present Songs of the Season on Friday, at Grace Episcopal Church in a benefit to support the restoration of the Old Benevolent Society building, the oldest African-American burial lodge in West Feliciana Parish.
The campaign to restore the burial lodge is being led by the Order of Eastern Star, Pride of St. Francisville, Chapter 12's Old Benevolent Society Committee, said Sara Wilson-Rogers, the group’s president.
Griffin, a Louisiana native and graduate of Southern University, has performed in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and South Africa. His opera roles include Lawyer Frazier in Michigan Opera Theatre’s "Porgy and Bess," a role that he was invited to reprise during a European tour of the opera.
Griffin is on faculty at Loyola University. A soloist at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Griffin also serves on the faculties of Xavier University of Louisiana and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
Griffin’s connections to the St. Francisville community includes his collaborations with Thomas Dawson, a native of St. Francisville and musical director for the Commodores. Thomas Dawson is one of the grandsons of John Sterling Dawson, an early African American educator in the parish and the namesake of the Dawson School.
Thomas Dawson and Griffin are co-producers of Griffin's debut album "Finding My Way Back To Me."
Wilson-Rogers said the benefit performance is the first organized fundraiser for the Old Benevolent Society restoration, but work started nearly two years ago with cleanup and repairs to the building on Ferdinand Street. Built in 1883, the structure is the oldest African-American burial lodge in West Feliciana Parish. The wooden shotgun structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A big step in the restoration process came in September 2018 when the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation announced the building was being added to Louisiana's Most Endangered Places List.
According to last year’s news release, benevolent societies played an important role in black communities following the Civil War. Originally formed to cover the expenses of medical care and burial, they also provided union and fellowship, especially to the sick and weak. Use of the building ceased in December 2016 due to needed repairs to the foundation and exterior, the release said.
Wilson-Rogers said the local Order of Eastern Star chapter stepped up to be the caretakers of that building. “This old building has so much history,” she said. “We want to bring the knowledge of all that history into the current.”
The committee was comprised of volunteers from diverse occupations and talents in the community including the superintendent of schools, the historic society, construction experts, and engineers, she explained.
The OES would like to bring the Old Benevolent Society back into the community. “We are learning more about the history of the building,” Wilson-Rogers said. “Letting it go down was not an option for us or for the community.”
A pre-event reception will begin at 6 p.m. proceeded by the 7 p.m. performance. Tickets for Songs of the Season are available at https://eventbrite.com.