DeKALB Calesta "Callie" Day stood on the stage at the innaugural Black History Month Spiritual Concert at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Saturday and sang an emotional rendition of "Give Me Jesus," while concert organizer and friend Markcus Kitchens accompanied her on piano.
Day, who appeared on America's Got Talent and is a touring member of the American Spiritual Ensemble, did her doctoral dissertation on the role of African-American opera singers.
"We need to be delivered," she sang and spoke into her second song, hands in the air as others in the audience joined her jubilation.
It's the first of what Kitchens, 28, hopes to be an annual event bringing together people in song and celebrating Negro Spirituals, he said, to commemorate Black History Month throughout the community. For two hours Saturday afternoon, choirs and ensembles from Northern Illinois University, including the concert choir and steel pan musician Charlo Alfonso, and ensembles from St. Paul Church of God in Christ, New Hope Choir, Beloved Community, First Baptist Church, and soloists including Day, sang songs, lifted prayers and gathered together to close out the month.
Mid-way through the concert, a love offering was held to benefit Safe Passage.
Kitchens and his wife, Amelia Kitchens, 23 (who provided sign language translations throughout) organized the event. Both Kitchenses are pursuing degrees and NIU in law and medicine.
"I wanted to bring together all people no matter what your ethnic background status is, or your religion," Kitchens said, who also emceed the event. "From different local churches to the concern choir of the university and even people from different cities so that we can help celebrate this most important month for our people."
Beth Campen sang in New Hope's choir and said she met Markcus Kitchens in church. She said she's attended New Hope since 2001 and was impressed with Kitchens' ability to merge choirs for multiple performances Saturday.
"It's the best music there is," Campen said in a phone interview Friday. "And he's working with a lot of people who don't read music. That's been on fun thing."
NIU Concert Choir Director Eric Johnson led the choir into two songs, and then Kitchens conducted both choirs at the end for a lively marching tune.
"We practiced together for the first time ever this morning," he said, laughing.
When he thinks about Black History Month, Kitchens said community and music play a significant role in how he chooses to celebrate black history.
"It literally means everything to me," Kitchens said. "Just to see everybody coming together is what is really important for me."