The divas are coming Concert: Top-of-the- line women in gospel, classical, pop and jazz get together for a rare performance.

September 08, 1997|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

A diva is defined as "a leading woman singer," and if Webster's needed an illustration of the word, any one of the performers featured in a concert in the nation's capital tomorrow would be a candidate.

"It is called 'Symphony with the Divas,' " says Curtis King, who was instrumental in bringing together this extraordinary gathering of women on the eve of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend.

Part of the proceeds from the concert, which is in honor of African-American women in Congress, will benefit the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Endowment Fund. King is founder and president of the Dallas-based academy, whose fund provides scholarships for students and supports music education in schools.

The divas will perform works from four genres: gospel, classical, jazz and pop. Tramaine Hawkins, Vickie Winans, Myrna Summers and the Clark Sisters (Jackie, Karen, Dorinda and Twinkie) will be raising their voices in gospel songs.

The pop/jazz category will feature Oleta Adams, Erykah Badu and Dionne Warwick. Narration will be provided by actresses Ruby Dee, Esther Rolle, Beverly Todd (probably best known for her role as the assistant principal in the movie "Lean on Me") and Tonea Stewart (who played Samuel L. Jackson's wife in the movie "A Time to Kill").

Barbara Conrad, Florence Quivar and Faye Robinson are the classical divas. Music will be provided by the Washington Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martin J. Piecuch and guest conductor Julius P. Williams, with additional singing by the 100 voices of Washington's Baptist Church.

Actress Esther Rolle did not hesitate in signing on to the diva concert.

"I suppose it's a sense of what I owe, of wanting to give back to the community," she says. The actress, who has appeared in many productions, is probably best known for her portrayal of Florida, the mother in the television show "Good Times," which is still seen in reruns.

"And I am sure it will be such an honor to work with these women," Rolle says in a telephone conversation from Los Angeles.

Rolle is also familiar with King and the work he does with the Black Academy of the Arts.

"Curtis has been such a faithful laborer in the field for the advancement of young people that I felt like I could not refuse something he was doing," she says.

Gospel diva Winans, whose latest album is "Live In Detroit," says the idea of a large orchestra backing her up in a live performance was too tempting to turn down.

"That has always been a dream of mine," says Winans, over the telephone from Florida, where she was performing. "Ever since I started singing, I wanted to sing with a large orchestra behind me."

She briefly had that experience in a performance with another diva, Tramaine Hawkins, that left her wanting to do more. "When Curtis called and asked if I could do it, I said, 'Oh wow!' It's always been my fantasy!"

Four years ago, the idea for such a gathering was a mere flicker in the minds of a few people who dreamed big.

"I produced a gala for the sorority Delta Sigma Theta in St. Louis. It was their national convention," says King.

From that gala came the idea to do a "Symphony with the Divas" two years ago. It was a smaller concert with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, King says. It featured gospel singer Hawkins, pop/jazz singer Mary Wilson and classical performer Barbara Conrad.

"About 2,000 people came to that, and there were rave reviews," King says.

People began approaching him to make the concert bigger and to take it on tour.

Of course, there were obstacles. Or, as King puts it, "I told them that this takes money!"

It took a little while to get sponsorship, but the Black Academy of Arts and Letters got behind the project, and the money eventually flowed in from corporations, such as American Airlines and Emerge magazine.

The rest was relatively easy. "It really wasn't difficult for me to get the artists involved," King says.

He would like to take the show on the road, although the lineup of divas is likely to change.

'Symphony with the Divas'

When: Tomorrow, 7: 45 p.m.

Where: Warner Theatre, 1299 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington

Tickets: $45 to $100

` Call: 410-481-SEAT

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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