Inspired by the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Duke Ellington created his first sacred concert in 1965. While many of Ellington’s pieces have dealt with this spirituality, this aspect of his life was not specifically addressed until he was commissioned to create such a concert, only a year after the Civil Rights Act was signed and weeks before affirmative action had been passed. The Detroit Jazz Festival brings these historic memories and significant works back to Detroit with the first concert of the new Community Series on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 4:00 p.m. in Orchestra Hall, Detroit.

“This concert will feature a diverse collection of instrumentalists and vocalists from the jazz, blues, gospel and classical communities. The result is sure to be a powerful Detroit rendition of these historic Duke Ellington works,” said Chris Collins, artistic director, Detroit Jazz Festival. “I can think of no better way to celebrate Black History Month than by uniting artists and music lovers to experience the genius, creativity and spirituality of one of the definitive American composers, Duke Ellington.”

The performance will feature world-renowned conductor David Berger, Ed Love from WDET FM as narrator, a Detroit-based big band, distinguished tap dancer Jared Grimes, a variety of Detroit jazz artists and a more than one hundred-voice choir led by Dr. Norah Duncan IV. In addition, Berger will host a pre-concert presentation for select ticket holders on the Ellington pieces to be performed at the event. This event marks the inaugural program under new artistic director and native Detroiter, Chris Collins. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Wayne State University also have provided support for the event.

Featured Detroit artists performing at the event include vocal soloists Alice Tillman, Theodore Jones, Thornetta Davis and Ursula Walker; as well as Alvin Waddles on piano, Marion Hayden on bass and Johnny Trudell, Dwight Adams and Walter White on trumpets. Berger also will lead a Detroit all-star big band. The voice choir brings together singers from throughout the city with the Wayne State University Symphonic Choir and the Detroit Choral Society.

Berger is recognized as the leading authority on Duke Ellington and the swing era. He has taught for 35 years at various institutions, including the Manhattan School of Music in N.Y. Many of his students are among today’s finest jazz musicians. Berger has arranged and conducted for such well-known orchestras as Lincoln Center Orchestra in N.Y. and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He also arranged music for celebrated artists such as Natalie Cole and Denzal Sinclaire.

“The goal of the Detroit Jazz Festival has always been to enrich our communities through exposure to meaningful and important players in jazz music, with events such as this concert dedicated to Duke Ellington’s work,” said Gretchen Valade, chair of foundation board of directors, Detroit Jazz Festival. “The festival gives back to the community throughout the year, not just on Labor Day weekend. We are continually looking for opportunities to educate our community on the jazz culture and its history.”

Under Valade’s direction and focus on music and education enrichment, the Detroit Jazz Festival puts on a variety of educational and community events throughout the year as part of its Community Series. With the support of various donors, grants and awards, the festival is able to provide programs such as the Jazz Infusion Program, Jazz Week @ Wayne and the Jazz Guardian Award.

Tickets to the Sacred Music of Duke Ellington range in price from $10 to $35. A limited number of box seats are available for $99 and include the pre-concert presentation and a VIP reception with David Berger. Tickets may be purchased at the Max M. Fisher Music Center box office (3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit); by calling (313) 576-5111; or online at


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