OAKLAND -- Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a sonic celebration continues to trumpet pivotal moments in freedom's history.
On Sunday, the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra featuring Faye Carol, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the Oakland Children's Community Choir will perform during the 12th annual musical tribute -- "In the Name of Love" -- honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center. The event starts at 7 p.m.
The musical tribute is the creation of Living Jazz, which picked up King's torch of equality and started Jazz Camp West 31 years ago. The camp is an eight-day event that exposes 250 participants to the connective, desegregated wonders of music and dance.
Each year, Living Jazz with the assistance of Oakland's Department of Human Services, pays homage to an "outstanding Oakland citizen who works tirelessly for the betterment of the community," Living Jazz Executive Director Stacey Hoffman wrote in an email.
On Sunday, Mayor Jean Quan will present Carol Johnson, executive director of St. Mary's Center, with the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award. In 1994, Johnson was a case worker at SMC, which signaled a sea change for Oakland citizens living "on the fringes" by providing critical and comprehensive social services for extremely low income seniors and children.
"Martin Luther King Jr. has been a big part of our development," Johnson says. "We provide services, but we also engage people in standing up for their basic civil rights."
Johnson says a humanitarian is someone who understands that his or her role in the world involves standing for justice and respecting all human beings.
A 2008 SMC study co-authored with the Oakland Institute titled "Going Gray in the Golden State" reported that California leads the nation with the most elders living in poverty. Oakland had the state's largest number, with nearly 1 in 8 of the city's 41,788 seniors impoverished, according to the study.
"We know how to build housing. We need an intention to end poverty. (Accepting) poverty is a denial of the necessity of preserving people's basic human rights," Johnson says.
Shelby, a Bay Area composer, teacher, bandleader and bassist, says music is a tool to end violence, slavery and other forms of oppression. He has spent the past decade immersing himself in research, exploring the Civil Rights Act, ancient African tribes from which he says King is a descendant, and composing original, jazz-infused music reflecting on messages rising from the freedom songs powering the early civil rights movement.
"The name of our presentation is 'Walls.' It's a 20-minute tone poem," he says of the work he will present. Carol and the 15-piece Marcus Shelby Orchestra will transform a legislative act into "a real thing impacting real people," he promises.
Shelby says that because music is the strongest way to evoke emotion and to cause action, the opportunity to turn pain and oppression into something beautiful is an artist's reward.
Honoring King, Johnson, and the musicians for their contributions, he suggests "In the Name of Love" sends a clarion call for continued action in the preservation of civil rights for all.
What: 12th annual musical tribute honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Where: Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $23 ($25 at the door), $8 for children 12 and younger.