Choir getting ready for King celebration

STEUBENVILLE – Juanita Slappy couldn’t stop smiling Friday as she sat in a pew at Second Baptist Church on Adams Street, waiting for the other members of the Martin Luther King Memorial Mass Choir to assemble for practice.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be here, it really is. I look forward to it every year.”

The interfaith choir will anchor the community’s Martin Luther King birthday celebration, just as it has done every year since 1970.

Founder Delores Wiggins, minister of music, said the group will join other area choirs at 6 p.m. Saturday in Second Baptist Church for the Martin Luther King Gospel Extravaganza. The program will include a duet by Attilio Boni and Rita Kilmartin; musical selections by Juliette Hamilton and Cynthia Smith; recitations by Lela Poole and Ivy Kirtdoll; mimes and performances by the Quinn AME Senior Choir as well as other musical guests.

Wiggins said it’s been a joyous experience, “especially when you focus on what we’re doing it for.”

“Martin Luther King was a man of vision, actually, for all people” she said. “When you think about Martin Luther King’s legacy, especially his ‘Dream’ that all people will be together as one … we haven’t reached that goal yet, but it’s a goal that’s very dear to me.”

Wiggins said the choir is comprised of volunteers from the different religious communities that make up Steubenville. “There’s always new faces,” she added, noting that two members – Slappy and Lela Poole – have been with her from the beginning.

Together, they’ll be performing several powerful spirituals and hymns, including “The Lord’s Prayer,” “For God So Loved the World” and “Holy, Holy.”

“I’d been in a choir on and off, at different functions, but she formed the Martin Luther King Choir and we’ve been singing together ever since,” said Slappy, who said she gladly gave her time during the past 43 years “because of what it stands for, and to help keep his dream alive, a remembrance of him and what he stood for.”

On Sunday the group will perform several selections at a 6 p.m. ecumenical service at Second Baptist Church. Pastor Rick Sherrer of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Cincinnati, will be the guest speaker.

Also performing during the Sunday ecumenical service will be the Martin Luther King Children’s Choir, which Wiggins also started some 15 or 20 years ago.

The children’s choir, directed by Lisa Thomas and made up of 5-to-13-year-old youth from throughout the community, also will be featured at a Saturday morning children’s program at the Martin Luther King Center.

“That’s what it’s about, the children,” Wiggins said.

She added the choir will meet for practice again at 6 p.m. Friday at Second Baptist.

“Martin Luther King’s ‘dream’ is very dear to me as we fight discrimination and disparity every day,” Wiggins said, pointing out the celebration is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Association. “It’s amazing how some of us are still living in the ’30s and ’40s, not realizing this is a new day.”

James Baber is president of the association.