Courtesy of Ricardo Gomez Angel

As New Haveners of all stripes celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. across town on Monday, one Elm City event commemorated the civil rights activist through music.

On Monday afternoon, the St. Luke’s Steel Band held its annual concert commemorating Dr. King and the holiday in his honor at the First and Summerfield Church, located at the northwest corner of the New Haven Green. The tradition, which began 10 years ago, mixes a variety of music genres to celebrate King and highlight New Haven’s multiculturalism. Locals filled the standing room-only venue on Monday, proving the concert’s continued popularity.

“We started doing these concerts at St. Luke’s Church 10 years ago,” Kenneth Joseph, the director of the band, told attendees. “[Then] it got so popular that we needed to move to this space. Now, still, people are standing and the room is packed!”

The band began the day’s celebrations with waves of atmospheric steel percussion, washing back and forth like a tide. A soft stringed melody yawned in, and the audience’s ears began to perk. The music unfolded, layer by layer of additional harmony, until bursting into a celebration of jaunty drums and jovial melodies. With its opening number, “Lovely Day,” the band set its tone for the rest of the concert and day’s celebrations.

In keeping with the essence espoused by King, who stressed the importance of a universal human experience and solidarity, St. Luke’s Steel Band’s members ran the gamut of New Haven’s residents. Members, mixed in gender and race, ranged from 11 to 93 years old. Many wore hairstyles and accessories that reflected their respective cultures.

The makeup of orchestra itself also reflects the band’s multiculturalism — classical western cellos and violins mixed with steel drums from the Caribbean Islands. This celebration of King proudly displayed its commitment to bringing people together through music.

In addition to celebrating King’s legacy, the concert was intended to highlight how much work is left to be done, Debbie Teason, a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, told the News. Teason said she and her staff have been reviewing King’s speeches prior to the event and noted the relevance even decades later.

“It’s all the same stuff [that we are talking about in politics now],” Teason said.

Prior to beginning the last song, Joseph asked the audience to stand up and look up the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The drumming, singing and strings joined forces into one triumphant voice, announcing to the harsh days ahead — a message of strength and unity in the fight for civil rights.

Thabisa Mhlakulwana, a guest singer from South Africa at the concert, told the News that the concert was in part designed to remind people of the problems that minority communities still face every day and acts as a call to action.

“Black young men are still being killed by police brutality,” Mhlakulwana said. “Nobody talks about [minority communities in America] enough. Nobody uplifts them enough. Nobody celebrates [them] enough.”

First and Summerfield Church is located at 425 College St.

Kiscada Hastings |