The "Sacred Side of Soulsville" – performed at the Cannon Center Tuesday evening (Feb. 5) – brought the word pastiche to mind. Pronounced "pas-tēsh," it paints a picture of "stylistic imitation."
With that backdrop, I can say definitively that the celebration of the Stax Museum's 10th anniversary hit a distinct high note with a play performance so apropo for African American History Month.
Combining a Broadway-style performance troupe from Soulsville Charter School and the Stax Music Academy as orchestra and stage troupe, the show's writer, Justin Merrick, began the stage story in Grandville, Miss., lighting up the stage with a pyrotechnic intro of an eloquent dance sequence depicting slavery.
The story arched into the always-raging debate of nightclub culture versus church culture, vignettes of significant cultural time points and ended in a night of applause, "ooohs," and "aaahhs."
Merrick's script ended perfectly with a significant performance by original Stax gospel maverick, the Rance Allen Group, and then the Stax kids closing with the O'jays' hit, "Put Your Hands Together."
It was a great moment. Rance Allen's Stax work has long been considered a hallmark of early gospel. You can find quite a few old-schoolers who were in youth choirs when Allen debuted at Hamilton High School with a performance of "(Gonna Be A) Showdown" that is still talked about today.
His "That Will Be Good Enough For Me" went national at the same time and is considered a classic that only gifted singers dare approach. A master stroke was following up the Rance Allen Group's performance with the praying classic from the O'jay's crystal album about slavery, "Ship Ahoy."
One of the fun things about covering Soulsville events is how you can seldom get a grownup to speak with you. "It's all about the kids," is the refrain to any question. And then you will be introduced to an articulate young person speaking real English about her/his experience at the Soulsville Charter School or the Stax Music Academy.
I came across an example of such in perfect trio while backstage during the intermission.
"It's taught me about different genres of music and how to present myself professionally," said April Horner, a Stax Academy student, who is an 11th grader at Whitehaven High School. "I would have never thought that I would love country music, but now I do. It's something."
Jalissa Logan, a "prospective scientist" and a 10th grader at Soulsville Charter School, was an extra in the production. "I'm just trying to get to that next level and it's fun working for it so I can get better.
Ten-year-old Kyla Greer, a Stax Academy theatre student who attends Highland Oaks Elementary School, said, "I'm an actress, dancer and singer and it's given me great exposure.
"I was able to attend the Dance Theater of Harlem this summer. I had to audition and was chosen. New York was so huge! I may want to become a Rockette!"