Students sing proud history

Published 10:17 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

The Lakeland High School auditorium was filled with resounding songs and raucous applause during the school’s Black History Month Concert on Thursday.

The second annual concert featured Lakeland High School’s Bella Voce female student performer group as well as the Cavalier Singers, along with the concert choir groups from I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth and Hampton University.

There were more than 80 student performers between the three schools, according to Jaielle Manning, the Lakeland High School choral director.

Email newsletter signup

“I did it last year, and I got really good community feedback, so I wanted to make it even bigger this year,” Manning said.

Numerous parents and friends sat in the rows illuminated by the stage lights Thursday evening. The students performed a selection of music by African-American composers that projected their powerful history.

Many of the songs were spirituals, the religious folk music that’s closely related to the enslavement of Africans in brutal chapters of United States history. Manning described these rich pieces as stories to be told.

“I wanted to tell their stories in as true a way as I can,” she said.

I.C. Norcom Director Joe Harmon conducted his students through such songs as “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” and “Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord.” Hampton University singers delivered their renditions of “Ave Maria” and “Let Us Break Bread Together,” led by their director Omar Dickenson.

For Lakeland High School juniors Naleah Chavers and Charles Davis, the best song they rehearsed was “Way Over in Beulah Land” by Stacey Gibbs, a hopeful track that describes a long journey to freedom and the determination to get there.

“It kind of represents how impatient you are to be free and told from a slave’s perspective,” 16-year-old Naleah said.

Lakeland’s chorus members spent two months rehearsing and working through the kinks in their performances.

“It was a little tricky for us to get the soulfulness down as a group,” Naleah said.

Charles, 16, explained that their method was to feel the emotions of the piece.

“It’s not just about the vocals,” he said.

Each of these songs tells a story, and Naleah and others would imagine those backstories themselves to help them perform. Naleah recognized that religion was a big part of how slaves endured the savagery in their lives, and that emotion carries over to the students’ bellowing voices.

Lakeland High School senior Torre Williams, 18, agreed with that dedication.

“You’ve got to really be focused and put your heart into it to make it something great,” Williams said.

The Lakeland performers and visiting choirs delivered a crowd-pleasing evening in honor of black history.

“We try to keep the tradition of black history by paying respect to those that came before us and paved the way to where we are now,” said Lakeland High School senior Tyshaun Harris, 17.