Sunday, March 7, 2021

Donzaleigh Abernathy: Soloist on ‘The Listening’ Inspired by 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. Speech

Donzaleigh Abernathy - the listening screenshot
‘The Listening’ session featuring Donzaleigh Abernathy

*Actress, author, and civil rights advocate, Donzaleigh Abernathy, daughter of the late civil rights icon Rev. Ralph Abernathy, has unwrapped her vocal gifts to pay homage to a historic speech by her godfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who she called Uncle Martin.  Donzaleigh’s voice as lead soloist is heard on the social  justice recording titled, “The Listening.”  The music project is the brainchild of songwriter and composer, Cheryl B. Engelhardt, who was inspired by King’s 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam:  A Time To Break Silence.”

The social justice corral project was released via audio and video on Feb. 12, 2021. According to Donzaleigh’s publicist, Kaytee Long, “The Listening” is now available on all major online-digital music platforms, like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and others.  The video is available on YouTube.

“Cheryl wrote this song after hearing Uncle Martin’s speech at Riverside Church in New York City,” said Donzaleigh.  “The speech was protesting the Vietnam War.  My father was at Riverside with Uncle Martin that day.  I remember that both men always talked against the war.” Watch the performance below.

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Many years later, Donzaleigh’s husband, Dar Dixon, became aware of Engelhardt’s composition.  When he found out that Engelhardt would be performing in San Diego, Dixon, a television and film producer, convinced his wife to accompany him from Los Angeles to San Diego to hear the composer in concert.

Donzaleigh said she couldn’t believe what she heard that night in San Diego when “The Listening” was performed.

“I was mesmerized when I heard all the voices, the staccato, and the epic energy of the composition,” Donzaleigh recalled. “It was like Hamilton…it was like an opera. It’s something that I’d never heard before.  It was brilliant. I had chills and sat on the edge of my seat…it was that riveting.”

Dixon ultimately learned that Engelhardt was going to record “The Listening.”  As time progressed, he told the composer that his wife could sing and suggested that Engelhardt hear Donzaleigh’s voice.  He further suggested that Donzaleigh be a part of the recording.

“After Cheryl heard me sing, she was interested and later recorded me at my house in Los Angeles,” Donzaleigh said.  “It all happened during this pandemic.  It’s something that people really need to hear.  The voices and music are so beautiful.”

The Listening_MLK
This iconic photo features Donzaleigh’s father, the Rev Ralph Abernathy (wearing black fur/cap behind priest, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta King.

“In my opinion, Dr. King started truly listening,” Engelhardt said in a statement.  “He was listening to the oppressed, the abused, the poor, the scared, and the unloved. In ‘The Listening’ I set out to recreate how he listened.  He urged listeners to embrace ‘unconditional love for all mankind’ and made clear that love is not something weak or sentimental, but rather an access to creating change.”

As an actress, Donzaleigh’s portfolio is filled with more than 30 film and television projects.  She has penned two books:  Partners to History:  Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and the Civil Rights Movement (2003), and In the Spirit of Martin:  The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (2002).

Donzaleigh has a unique civil rights linkage, which is rooted in the 1950s through her late father, Rev. Abernathy, and King.  Both  men are credited with jump starting the modern Civil Rights Movement with their co-planning and co-leadership that led to the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956.

Donzaleigh Abernathy - YouTube
Donzaleigh Abernathy – YouTube

While Dr. King delivered hundreds of speeches during the Civil Rights Movements, his oratory presentation of  “Beyond Vietnam:  A Time to Break Silence” was delivered one year before his assassination.  Engelhardt calls King’s speech profound.

In addition to Donzaleigh, “The Listening” features singer, poet, emcee and actor, Wes Felton, son of jazz pianist Hilton Felton, Jr.  And several Black Lives Matter activists are on the recording, including Halim Flowers, who was wrongfully incarcerated for 22 years.  “The Listening” was originally commissioned in 2017 by Andre DeQuadros for the Boston-based social justice choir, “Voices 21 C.”  It has since been performed around the globe by other choirs.

“Cheryl gave me the opportunity to be a part of ‘The Listening,’ ” said Donzaleigh.  “And…I’m so honored.  It’s an absolutely compelling choral project that I’m really proud of.”

For more information on “The Listening” visit www.cbemusic.co/thelistening.

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