You are here:

The 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Choral Celebration | Heritage Ensemble Presents Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award to Thomas L. Cayson By Dr. Francesca Armmer

As we embrace this new year of 2023, it was a pleasure for the Heritage Ensemble to present our 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Choral Celebration. The pleasure was an acknowledgement of three major themes: the Legacy of Dr. King, the Commitment of the Heritage Ensemble to our Community, and the Sustainability of the mission of the Heritage Ensemble. This concert, presented on January 14, 2023, reflected our ongoing invitation to all to join us as we take a journey. It was a journey that clearly reflected our mission — “the Heritage Ensemble strives to tear down walls and build bridges between all people.”

Heritage Ensemble

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is rich, heartwarming, courageous and compelling. This legacy was depicted in a dynamic arrangement entitled “King and Lincoln: Five Score and Four Score.” Arranged by Rev. Lynnda White (Heritage Ensemble member), Mr. Garry Moore and Mr. Eugene Bourke represented the persona of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln and read blended excerpts from “I Have a Dream” and “The Gettysburg Address.” From a backdrop of photos and music, both audience and Ensemble were taken on a journey of “edutainment” that affirmed the essence of the Gettysburg Address and the ongoing necessity to persevere toward dream fulfillment!

The commitment of the Heritage Ensemble to our Community was reflected in the presentation of the first Lifetime Achievement Award. This Award was presented to Mr. Thomas L. Cayson. Mr. Cayson is a charter member of the Heritage Ensemble and has been instrumental in his support of the Ensemble, from initial performances that led to the formal establishment of the Ensemble. The consistency of his service has been an example for both former and current Ensemble members. Mr. Cayson has led the rich sound of the bass vocal section of the Ensemble. He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement medallion, and the audience was thrilled to hear him lead a favorite spiritual, “Woke up this morning with my mind, Stayed on Jesus!”

Mr. Thomas L. Cayson (seated) receives Lifetime Achievement Award. Founder and Artistic Director of the Heritage Ensemble, Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed (center). Photos by Reginald Birris

The sustainability of the Heritage Ensemble is embedded in our commitment to provide our community with a “treasure chest” of melodies whose foundation is the Negro Spiritual. In our 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Choral Celebration, musical selections included the “Spiritual Suite” arranged by Joseph Joubert, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” arranged by Kirby Shaw, and “He Was a Friend of Mine” by Bob Dylan. Guest narrator and Soloist Dr. Alonzo Cooper, Tenor and Faculty Member from Western Illinois University contributed to the celebration as he sang, “Walk Together Children.” It is noteworthy that over 23 years ago, the Heritage Ensemble also began as a “dream.”

The Heritage Ensemble began as a dream/vision from the founder and artistic director, Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed. Together a core group of performers were called upon to be the pivotal community in the Opera Illinois production of Porgy and Bess. In preparation for this production, the group performed A Concert of Spirituals. This marked the beginning of a choral ensemble that has taken the Peoria Metro community, the State of Illinois, and our United States on musical journeys that have been described as “edutainment,” a rich blend of education and entertainment. Thus, the Heritage Ensemble presents two signature concerts every year: the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and the Juneteenth Concert.

The 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Choral Celebration provided our Community with a journey that celebrated the Legacy of Dr. King, the Commitment of the Heritage Ensemble to our Community, and the Sustainability of the Mission of the Heritage Ensemble. An evening of joy and honor was experienced by all!