By: Janice Malone
It will be a mini holiday lunch time concert when jazz vocalist extraordinaire Connye Florance will be performing December 5 (1:00 – 1:30pm) at one of Scarritt-Bennett Center’s Christmas Concerts at the Wightman Chapel. The concerts are free and open to the public. “I’ll be featuring traditional Christmas music, with a blend of some contemporary and classical tunes. It’s just me and a pianist. So have a quick-lunch, enjoy a quick concert and get back to whatever you’ll be doing,” says Connye.
Ms Florance is one of jazz music’s preeminent jazz vocalists. She and her husband, pianist/arranger Kevin Madill, have performed to sell-out crowds in local and international jazz venues. They’ve performed with such jazz greats as Beegie Adair, master trumpeter Randy Brecker; saxophonist Kirk Whalum; with Nashville Jazz Orchestra.
The Scarritt-Bennett Center is launching its 2013 Performance Series at Wightman Chapel with a stellar evening of music by award-winning jazz vocal stylist Connye Florance and Kevin Madill. The hour-long kick-off concert is scheduled for Thursday, January 17th from 7-8 pm. Florance says she is thrilled and “honored” to be leading off the center’s new performance series. She says, “I feel spiritually in sync with Scarritt-Bennett Center…not to mention the ‘ring’ in Wightman chapel! Not only is it a singer’s delight in choice concert spaces. It’s a spiritually centered place on holy ground, whose history and mission have really begun to touch my life in personal ways.” The 2013 Performance Series at Wightman Chapel is an effort to help raise awareness and funding for the historic facility’s outstanding community enhancement programs, exhibits and series.
For this very special January performance Ms Florance will bring a one hour concert of songs in a presentation she has tagged as “Colors of Jazz.” The show will include a variety of songs from “The Great American Songbook and beyond,” with historic content in homage to jazz, and to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose speech to students and faculty at Scarritt Bennett in 1957, is an honored part of its impacting legacy. Most recently Connye performed as guest vocalist for services preceding the historical marker dedication ceremonies to commemorate the impact of Scarritt Bennett in the struggle to for civil rights. Built in 1928, this architectural treasure, formerly Scarritt College for Christian Workers is on the National Historic Register.
The Scarritt-Bennett Center was organized in 1988 as a non-profit education, retreat and conference center with a strong commitment to promoting racial equality, cross-cultural understanding, the empowerment of women and spiritual renewal. Earlier this year, Connye and Kevin brought music from their “Crossing the Divide” ministry to the Tuesday Chapel services. Professional musicians for more than 25 years and together as husband and wife for nearly 13 years, Connye and Kevin have successfully built a strong bridge of cultural and racial boundaries. Theirs is a marriage deemed nearly impossible by most. Connye, the youngest sibling of former Freedom Riders and Kevin being the great-nephew of a KKK member, how is it that these two could cross the divide to share a life together? Through music, love and understanding, they created their Crossing the Divide music ministry to teach through songs; discourse to encourage, inspire and infuse new hope for healing the wounds that continue to hurt and divide people racially and culturally.
TRIBUNE: The last time we talked you and your husband had just started the Crossing the Divide ministry. How are things going?
CONNYE: “I really think the church at large, whether it’s African American, predominantly Caucasian or whatever, is really not yet interested in having a conversation about racial healing. Several say they are but it seems they’re certainly not interested in what we’re bringing. We’ve done presentations at a handful of churches and the response has been enormous at the places where we’ve been. But the efforts for those churches to reach back out to pull in other churches into the conversation, has been an effort. We’ve been discussing perhaps pulling our message off the Christian platform, so as to not alienate people who don’t necessarily place themselves into a religious box and extend it to more of non-religious type audiences.
TRIBUNE: That’s really such a shame that more churches have not embraced you and your husband’s ministry. It’s shameful in that some religious and clergy leaders are constantly emphasizing they want to have racial reconciliation.
CONNYE: “I think so. And it’s been quite surprising. Maybe it’s just my perspective as one who is trying to affect the healing. It’s really been difficult to get open doors to places that really need some racial healing. ..We’ve really done our best to try and offer our presence and fellowship at no cost to the churches. The only thing we ask is to take up a love offering so that we can continue to spread this message. “
TRIBUNE: So if racial healing can’t start within the house of God or Body of Christ, then where can it start?
CONNYE: “Right! And that’s the perspective in which we are coming from with this topic and this whole ministry of Crossing the Divide. To me, the church seems to be the most logical place for it to begin. I mean it certainly was for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like race and racial matters are still such a problem in this society.
TRIBUNE: Oh yes, it’s definitely still an issue. What do you think the problem might be as to why so many churches haven’t been very receptive to this type of ministry?
CONNYE: “I’ve had many people from the religious community tell me they’re so inundated with similar requests from others out here who have styles of messages to share. And then in our society today it’s still about knowing the right person or people who’s on the inside that can help bring you in. And in certain churches it’s no exception…But I continue to welcome any church or organization who’s interested in contacting us about speaking and dialoguing about this continued issue of racial reconciliation.”
TRIBUNE: So has your Crossing the Divide ministry been placed on the shelf?
CONNYE: “No, we haven’t parked the ministry. We’re continuing to enter opened doors and looking for even more to open for us. I have a new idea that I’m pursuing quietly, that may help. I just think that if we as people took this open dialogue about racial healing out of our living rooms and other private areas, and had them in more general arenas, and then maybe some real healing would finally start to happen. I’m just trying to follow God’s instructions and directions on how to best facilitate that.” In this chat with Connye she shares insight on their music, ministry and the New Year.
TRIBUNE: Musically speaking, what can we expect from you in the New Year?
CONNYE: “Other than the Scarritt-Bennett event, my husband and I don’t have any plans on releasing any recordings but we are looking forward to doing some artist development work with some aspiring musicians and singers. We’re looking to work with artists out there that we can help steer their careers in the right direction. This new venture we’ve launched is called Sound Path Music and we’re looking for new talent. (www.soundpathmusic.com) We hope to really expand it more during the next quarter of the year.
Visit www.scarrittbennett.org/programs/ps.aspx to purchase tickets and learn more about the 2013 Performance Series at Wightman Chapel.