It was cold outside – a blustery 18 degrees with sub-zero wind chills, however, it did not stop fans from filling up the 130-year old Auditorium Theatre this past Saturday evening to witness another explosive performance by Too Hot to Handel: the Jazz-Gospel Messiah in Chicago.
On Saturday, January 18, Too Hot celebrated its 15th-anniversary performance in the Auditorium Theatre. This performance of combined talent from a multicultural orchestra and a 100-voice choir began back in 2006. The production has been warming the hearts of Chicagoans and beyond every year during the typically wintry weekend celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday.
Too Hot renders inspirational hymns and ballads by integrating the sounds of classical, jazz, gospel, and blues with brilliantly arranged instrumentation and vocal mastery. Too Hot’s featured soloists included an African American trio of undeniable vocal prowess: gifted recitalist and tenor phenom, Rodrick Dixon, his wife, a raspy-toned powerhouse soprano, Alfreda Burke and holding down the middle, the sultry smooth but roof-reaching range of alto, Karen Marie Richardson.
Too Hot was a welcomed and refreshing display of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. This performance painted the perfect picture of Dr. King’s idea, his dream of a beloved community. A community where people from all walks of life come together, loving one another, respecting each other’s individuality, joining in unity and peace to collectively celebrate and enjoy each other regardless of color, race, creed, social, political, or economic status. From the audience to the performers, this electrifying dramatic show epitomized Dr. King’s dream of a beloved community.
In its 15th year, Too Hot did not disappoint. It was electric, energetic, inspiring, and soul-stirring. Maretta Smith sings alto in the Too Hot Choir. Her very proud and excited dad accompanied by Uncle Reginald, Janice Mitchell, aka “Grammy” and Reverend Grover Mitchell, aka “Paw-Paw” and 41 of their family and friends were in the building to support and celebrate his daughter.
James and Carla Sanford, a beautiful married couple, were attending Too Hot for the second time. Mr. Sanford shared why it is so important that this event takes place every year during Dr. King’s observed birthday weekend. He said, “the energy that takes place on stage is amazing. Handel [Too Hot] celebrates the great accomplishments [of Dr. King] by bringing people from everywhere together. He further shared, “this is a real unifying event with a little bit of everything from classical, jazz, gospel, it is a mixed bag. If Dr. King were alive, he would be right here.”
Adam Keeley was excited to come to the show because of the “mashup of jazz and gospel.” Too Hot has become a winter tradition. Adam shares, “Chicago is such a historic city. [Too Hot] is the celebration of gospel music and what that means to the culture and just musically.”
Renowned Chicago percussionist Tony Carpenter and videographer at Trinity United Church of Christ shared his take on Too Hot. [This show] was off the chain. What a great time for creativity as we go into [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] birthday celebration. He also shares some practical but powerful advice to his fellow Chicagoans: “Folks, folks, folks, it is simple, let us treat each other like we want to be treated. It is a beautiful thing — love one another. God bless. Keep on living.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs have designated 2020 as the “Year of Chicago Music. Chicago has shaped the music of the world – from gospel and jazz to blues and other genres of music. Relatively, Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah was such a glorious way to kick-off Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr. Birthday weekend celebration and the launch of this year-long celebration of Chicago’s incomparable contribution as a global music leader.
Kudos and congratulations to the Auditorium Theatre for having insight and vision 15 years ago to execute this joyous occasion of musical greatness that brings all people together. In the words of Too Hot’s final selection, “Hallelujah!” for this fantastic tribute to an array of music genres and the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Kimberly Durden, Contributing Writer