Dr. J. Owens Academy Gala Celebrates Black Music Month
by James Coulter
Melvin McCoy has been singing ever since high school. When he moved back to Polk County seven years ago and learned about Dr. Jessie Owens and her Sankofa Chorale, he leaped at the opportunity to join the choir once more.
What he loves most, aside from being able to warm up his vocal cords and sing alongside other talented singers, is the camaraderie he shares with his fellow choir members. He especially loves being able to perform at functions such as last week’s Dr. J. Owens Academy Gala.
“It gives the community an opportunity to come out and enjoy a variety of music, from the classical to jazz and rhythm and blues,” he said. “I hope to enjoy a wonderful time, hoping that the people who come enjoy themselves.”
Both their performances and their functions would not be possible if not for the hard work and dedication of Dr. Jessie Owens, the founder and director of the Sankofa Chorale, and the Adjunct Professor of Music at Polk State College. McCoy appreciates the hard work she puts into organizing such events, and in turn, it allows the local community to appreciate their own hard work that they put into their music.
“She is a down to earth person, a Christian, a lover of music, always has, and her dedication to what she is doing with the school of the arts and the choir itself,” he said.
The Sankofa Chorale were the star performers among other local musicians who had the opportunity to perform at the annual Dr. J Owens Academy Gala at Polk State Community Theater on Saturday evening.
The event is the “big finale” for the Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, a local academy that accommodates musical education for local children, especially those from low-income households.
The event started with a social hour within the theater lobby at 6 p.m. Guests guests could enjoy appetizers while listening to a live jazz musical performance, perusing local art, and partaking in a silent auction.
One hour later, the guests moved into the main auditorium where they could listen to musical tributes of traditional black music ranging from classical spiritual and gospel song to jazz, blues, R&B, and rap.
The Sankofa Chorale, a local choir that specializes in traditional black music, provided the main performance that evening alongside other local talents such as The Mixx, Yvonne Collins, Kenan De, Sherwood Davis, Nikki Gadson, Jevon Falcon, Jayla McCree, Retta Hendry, and Kid Balla.
This year’s event was themed as “Rising—On This Journey—With Love”, paying tribute to the long musical legacy of African Americans from traditional spirituals to modern music such as jazz, Motown, and R&B.
“I just want to celebrate the legacy of all of those who passed before us, who brought us all those soulful, beautiful blues music and spirituals and gospels back in the day, and recognize their contributions to society, which has brought us the popular music of today, and give them credit for it,” she said.
While the annual event serves as a fundraiser for her musical academy, she views it more as an opportunity to share musical talent to the local community, and allow them to better appreciate great music and the local talent who provide it, she said.
“I love to see how many people from our community come out and support us, and appreciate what we are doing,” she said. “We love what we do, but we want to share it with others and not just ourselves.”
This year saw an exceptional turnout, with more people from the community gathering to attend than last year, said Dr. Anita Major, Assistant Director of the Sankofa Chorale.
Having been with the choir since its inception nearly eight years ago, she loves the camaraderie she shares with her fellow choir members and the love they all have for music, especially the music that celebrates their people’s history and heritage.
“[This event] is the culmination, the premiere event, [that shows] how we have all worked together, worked very hard to do things for our community,” she said. “It looks like a larger turnout than previous years. So we have high expectations for this year.”
The Sankofa Chorale meets every Tuesday evening at Jewett School of the Arts for rehearsal. Anyone interested in joining is more than invited to drop by, she said. The school is located at 2250 8th St NE, Winter Haven, FL 33881.
Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc. is located at 1708 2nd St NE, Winter Haven, FL 33881. For more information about the school and future events, visit their website at: https://www.drjowensacademyfinearts.com/