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‘I Have a Dream’ will be put to music in Milton

Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research.
Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research.Steven Senne/Associated Press

A prominent author and historian will offer his thoughts on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and a vocalist who has performed with the Boston Pops will perform a musical version of King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in a livestream concert at the end of this month.

Milton Community Concerts will feature a group of Black performers and composers, plus reflections by National Book Award winner Ibram X. Kendi in the benefit “Still Dreaming: A Musical Tribute” taking place on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 3 p.m.

Concert planner Timothy Steele said the concert is timed to kick off Black History Month, annually recognized in February.


Steele said that like many Americans he was “feeling sort of helpless” after the events of last summer exposed the depth of systemic racism in American society, and he needed to dig into the subject.

“One of the voices I was listening to then was Ibram Kendi,” Steele said.

A professor and the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, Kendi authored the groundbreaking study, “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which won the national award for nonfiction five years ago. Several other books by Kendi, including “How To Be an Antiracist” and “Antiracist Baby,” have reached the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list.

Knowing that Kendi was based at Boston University, Steele decided “to take a shot in the dark and let him know what we were doing, and invite him to take part.” The author responded favorably.

“It is very exciting and thrilling to have him be a part of this,” Steele said.

Begun six years ago by First Parish Milton, Milton Community Concerts are a combination of informal setting and high-powered talent, offering performances by Boston area musicians with significant national reputations.


The church’s music director, Steele said he built the program for “Still Dreaming: A Musical Tribute” after gaining a commitment of participation by baritone Philip Lima, whom he heard perform “I Have a Dream” — a musical version of King’s famous 1963 civil rights speech — composed by Lee Hoiby, at another venue.

When the singer agreed to perform the song for the Milton program, Steele said, “the rest of the program went from there.”

Lima has been a “huge presence” in the Greater Boston classical music scene for 30 years, Steele said.

Soprano Brianna Robinson will be singing the dramatic song cycle “Songs of Love and Justice” by Adolphus Hailstork, a work derived from King’s writings. Steele described Robinson as “an emerging artist with Boston Lyric Opera.”

Soprano Mary Johnston Letellier will sing four songs by the Black American composers Cedric Adderley, Nadine Shanti, David N. Baker, and Thomas H. Kerr Jr.

“These particular pieces all stood out for me. All are powerful and moving. Some are based on texts by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar and other writers,” Steele said. “The words are spectacular and powerful and the music is just as powerful.”

Robinson and Lima will be performing in First Parish Milton. Steele will accompany them.

Letellier, Kendi, and narrator Cynthia Harmon will participate with prerecorded contributions.

The concert will be livestreamed by Sparrow Live, a new platform created during the pandemic and described by Steele as “the perfect livestream venue for classical concerts.”


The concert is a collaboration with a regional group called “Courageous Conversations for Racial Justice,” which holds regular dialogues on racism and privilege. The First Parish’s Rev. Lisa Ward is a founding member.

“Still Dreaming: A Musical Tribute” will raise money for the Neponset Neighbors Together Fund through the United Way, which helps neighbors in Milton, Hyde Park, Dorchester, and Roxbury who have suffered financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The concert will be available on the Sparrow Live platform for a minimum donation of $10 and will continue to be streamed throughout the month of February in celebration of Black History Month. For tickets, visit www.sparrowlive.com/miltoncommunityconcerts.

For more information on the concert series, visit www.miltoncommunityconcerts.com.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.