Damien Sneed is honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by zeroing in on a topic the civil rights leader often spoke about.
In “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.” the composer weaves together songs of protest and songs of reconciliation with the words of King. The touring production, led by Sneed, makes a stop at Proctors on Sunday.
The composer is an Atlanta native and recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence. He was adopted at birth and as a musical prodigy had a somewhat isolated childhood. But growing up he learned about King, and was inspired by how the civil rights leader fought for his dream of peace and by King’s encouraging messages of overcoming obstacles.
King’s words stuck with Sneed through his years of mastering not only classical music but also jazz. Sneed was mentored by Wynton Marsalis and has gone on to perform around the world and create a music label, LeChateau Earl Records.
But over the past few years he’s focused on King. He first premiered “We Shall Overcome” in 2018 at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem. Representatives from booking agencies were in the show, and one with IMG Artists offered to take it on the road.
The following year, “We Shall Overcome” went on a 36-city tour, including a stop in Albany. This time around, it’s booked for 41 stops and overlaps with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
“I take everyone on a journey during the performance. I’m talking and setting up each song, and the significance of whether it’s historically, with civil rights and Dr. King’s life, or how it relates today,” Sneed said.
In between songs like “What’s Going On,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” “Still I Rise” and “We Shall Overcome,” Sneed includes excerpts from King’s recorded speeches, as well as his own commentary.
While the show focuses on the civil rights movement, Sneed broadens its scope with his music choices, which range from jazz to traditional gospel to Broadway to spirituals, tracing through it all a cultural and historical lineage of persistence.
“There’s something for everyone. There’s music for everyone,” Sneed said.
“I also selected music from artists who really used their platform to give voice to those who do not or did not have a voice. That doesn’t have to just be about racial disparity or social injustice. It’s also women’s rights. Just anything in life that you have to overcome.”
It’s something that has seemed to resonate with crowds.
“Oh my goodness, so many places we go, people just weep and cry. Then people are happy, they’re dancing, they’re jumping up and down, clapping. It’s a full spectrum of emotions,” Sneed said.
The best part, by far according to Sneed, is when the performers get the chance to go into the audience after the show.
“That’s the part we look forward to. After the performance, we come out from the stage. . . . We talk to people and take photos, but mainly we’re listening and sharing stories. It’s awesome,” Sneed said.
During the last tour, Sneed spoke with people who had marched with King, as well as with Emmet Till’s cousin. This time around he’ll likely hear more moving stories, as he spreads a message of encouragement in honor of King.
'We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sun.
MORE INFO: proctors.org