- April 11, 2018
There will be one fewer audience member at Choral Artists of Sarasota’s annual Fourth of July concert this year.
June LeBell, former singer, board member and executive director of the organization, died April 30 of ovarian cancer.
It was LeBell who came up with the idea for the first Independence Day concert in 2007, so the group decided to dedicate this performance, Voices of Freedom, to her.
“June was kind of insistent that we maintain this tradition of the Fourth of July, and I agreed with her,” Artistic Director Joseph Holt says. “It seemed only right to dedicate this performance in her honor and in her memory because she meant so much to this organization.”
When he talks about LeBell, a wide, unwavering smile crosses Holt’s face. His eyes are distant, caught up in memories, as he speaks of her sense of humor and how she was always eager to help people — especially other singers.
He changes direction mid-sentence when a memory from a Fourth of July performance a few years ago comes back to him. He recalls a concert in which LeBell and her husband, Edward Alley, did a narration — set to music, with the chorus singing softly in the background — of quotes from several American presidents.
“It was a wonderful experience to be up there on stage with the two of them,” Holt remembers. “One on either side of me, as the chorus is singing and they’re giving these great orations. Obviously June was a natural. She could talk anywhere anytime.”
This year, Alley will take the stage again to do a narration for the Voices of Freedom concert. Holt says it will be about 9/11 and instead of being a reflection on a "horrific moment" in American history, it’s about the heroes who emerged in the aftermath.
By taking the stage in his wife’s honor, Alley will give back to the organization LeBell adored.
“It always meant a great deal to her,” he says. “She was doing Music Mondays and writing for the Observer among other things, but she was still a singer at heart.”
Alley says that, along with bringing Holt on board as artistic director, LeBell’s legacy within the organization was making the group of professional singers a professional organization. She gave it the visibility it has now, he says.
This year’s concert will feature the group’s traditional salute to the armed forces along with a tribute to the heroes of World War I and World War II and a new musical setting of the Gettysburg Address. Holt is also excited about the traditional Bach chorale that will be performed with words by Pete Seeger, along with a pairing of “My Country Tis of Thee” with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” arranged by Moses Hogan.
Holt says his goal is to remind locals why we unite on the Fourth of July.
“I felt like this year, considering the seeming divisiveness that we have in our country, we needed to have more of an underscore of who we are, where we come from and why we all do this together,” Holt says. “It makes no difference whether you’re white, black, red, green — we all do this because we believe in this.”