On the one-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir brought hundreds of people together Sunday afternoon to sing for “healing, harmony and fun,” in what they called the “C’ville Sing Out.” The event was moved from IX Art Park to its rain location inside Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church due to inclement weather conditions.
Event organizer Elly Tucker explained the concept behind the Sing Out in an interview before the event, stating that the idea actually predated the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally. Tucker has been a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir for years and had a large part in organizing the event.
“Somebody had seen a video of something called 'Choir Choir Choir' in Toronto and their pop up choirs…” Tucker said, “And [this person] said ‘Wouldn’t this be fantastic if Charlottesville could do something like this?’ and then August 12 happened, and after that we started thinking about what we could do to bring Charlottesville together in a beautiful way.”
However, Tucker emphasized the event was intended to bring people together.
“Not in a political … marching, fist-up kind of way,” Tucker said, “But in an inclusive way where we’re bringing lots of different elements [and] people from the community together who don’t know what else to do today. They don’t want to go underground, they don’t want to stay in their houses, they don’t want to do anything dangerous, they want to do something that’s uplifting and building peace and brotherhood and sisterhood.”
“This is democracy, this is inclusivity, this is the leadership we need to see more of in the future,” said local musician Stephen Said, one of the guest solo performers at the event.
After a short introduction, Said led the choir in a rendition of his own song, “We The People”. The music video, which in Charlottesville and Richmond, features numerous youth and local activists in those cities.
The Sing Out drew in hundreds of community members, which was surprising to the event organizers. Tucker commented on the flood of advance sign-ups the organizational team received.
“Our initial plan was to have 100 people,” Tucker said, “We thought that would be really cool- two weeks after we opened we had 200 people, and then 300. And as of last week we had 400 people… And we have walk-ins today!”
The audience for the event was actively engaged with the performance, and some attendees were watching through livestreams in rooms throughout Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church. In different rooms, members of the audience began clapping in time with the singers and many began singing themselves. During a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, the audience stood on their feet and swayed, singing along with the choir.
The question of security was important to the organization of the event, as it was originally planned to be held adjacent to downtown Charlottesville where including limited pedestrian access and road closures, were in place in anticipation of potential white supremacist demonstrations. The organizers hired a private security firm for the event.
“Because we’re on a private property, we do have the right to kick people out,” Tucker said, “It’s not that we want to exclude anybody, we just don’t want any trouble. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re not here to protest, we’re not here to march. We’re here to make music.”
The event followed a number of anti-racist demonstrations that took place during the weekend — including in downtown Charlottesville Saturday night, Sunday morning and a at the intersection of Fourth Street and Water Street.