One Voice’ Performance Shares History of African Americans Through Spoken WordFeb 14, 2022 01:52PM ● By David Dykes
(Shown: Jeremiah Dew as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo By Amy Randall)
By Donna Isbell Walker
“One Voice,” Jeremiah Dew’s exploration of Black history through the words of historical figures, uses Dew’s voice to illuminate the struggles and triumphs of Black Americans over the past 200 years.
But the production, which Dew presented at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville on Feb. 13, 2022, also utilized the voices of others, of African Americans with ties to Greenville, to tell a larger story of history writ large and small.
Dew, a Greenville native and the former emcee for the Greenville Drive baseball team, performed excerpts from speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama; Frederick Douglass’ “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: An America Slave, Chapter 1”; and sermons by James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly called the Black national anthem.
Interspersed with Dew’s powerful re-creations were videotaped interviews with Wilfred Walker Sr., the longtime Sterling High School football announcer; Dr. Margaree Seawright Crosby, who participated in a 1960 sit-in that led to the integration of the Greenville Library; and the Rev. Dr. Grady Butler Sr., who shared a jail cell with King after a protest in Atlanta.
Each individual was defined with a title: Johnson as The Poet, Douglass as The Runaway, Walker as The Carolinian, King as The Moral Leader, Crosby as The Protestor, Obama as The Politician, and Butler as The Cellmate.
The evening began with a solo of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Ruth Crumley-Perry.
Dressed simply in a suit and tie appropriate to the era of each individual and speaking without notes, Dew modulated his voice to match the cadences of each person.
As Johnson, Dew recounted a story of the creation of the world, beginning with, “God said, ‘I’m lonely; I’ll make me a world.’”
While contemporary audiences have no reference to the sound of Johnson’s voice, Dew nonetheless offered a credible impression of a 19th-century preacher, the timbre rising and falling with the cadence of the sermon.
Speaking as Douglass, his voice boomed as he told of the brutality of slavery, describing how Douglass was taken away from his mother as an infant, and recounting in detail the savage beatings his aunt endured at the hands of an overseer.
He appeared as Obama, recounting the then-future president’s concession speech from the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary, which resounded with Obama’s signature line, “Yes, we can!”
Dew appeared twice as King, once in the middle of the performance, delivering King’s “I have a dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington, and then at the end, closing out the evening with the civil rights leader’s “mountaintop” speech, delivered in Memphis the night before his assassination.
While each moment of the performance was moving in its own way, Dew’s hope is to inspire others to work to better the world.
The “performer’s note” in the program for the evening shared a bit of Dew’s vision. Part of his aim is to share the experiences of African Americans through the generations.
But, Dew wrote, “this event is also about you. It’s about what you can do, and achieve, and change with your individual voice.”
For more information about Dew and the show, go to www.onevoiceshow.com.