he Black Academy of Arts & Letters (TBAAL), the nation’s largest multi-discipline African-American cultural arts institution, is dusting off a classic for the digital generation. Back in 1987, vinyl LPs were on the way out and CDs were still a novelty. At that technological crossroad, TBAAL released a live recording of the legendary entertainer Eartha Kitt performing with The Black Academy Choir in celebration of the life and legacy of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The album, My Way: Musical Tribute To Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong seller and helped raise funds for the non-profit organization’s various arts and youth programs.
The roots of the project were born at Clara’s Kitchen, a once legendary soul food establishment in Dallas. TBAAL founder Curtis King had met Ms. Kitt when she was in concert at the city’s Venetian Room. “I told her that I admired her and she gave me her private contact information and we stayed in touch,” he recalls. “At some point I invited her to headline our annual King Day concert and she stayed over a couple of days to just relax. We were sitting in Clara’s Kitchen and she talked about her career and being blacklisted. She gave me a lot of business advice and both she and her daughter were very encouraging to me over the years.”
So, when the idea of a CD to raise funds for TBAAL arose, King instantly thought of Kitt who was only too happy to participate. However, she wasn’t the only shining star on the project. “We used several singers who are well known in the Dallas area,” King remembers. For instance, contralto John Archie Sanders, a now 80+-year-old former schoolteacher, led a gutsy, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” King says, “The great choral director Eva Jessye always said John Archie Sanders was one of the greatest female singers that never got heard nationally.”