A handful of the world's greatest musicians are as famous for their causes as they are their music: Stevie Wonder spearheaded the drive to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. U2’s Bono is the pointman for African-related issues. Now, the Grammy award-winning bassist/composer/vocalist Esperanza Spalding lends her jazzy, Midas touch toward the abolition of world slavery when she hosts and headlines a star-studded, benefit concert for Free the Slaves, a human rights organization dedicated to eradicating slavery and human trafficking worldwide.
Vocalists Bobby McFerrin, Gretchen Parlato are two of the confirmed artists scheduled to perform, along with Spalding’s jazz quartet, and members of her Chamber Music Society band, along with a potpourri of soon-to be-announced special guests.
An eleven year-old international human rights non-profit organization located in Washington, D.C., Free The Slaves works to emancipate an estimated twenty seven million men, women and children enslaved and trafficked around the world. They operate in six hundred communities in six countries (India, Nepal, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Brazil, as well as in the U.S.
“I’ve been working with them for the past year. We do fundraising when I’m touring. We sell merchandise and raise money and awareness about the work they do,” says the Oregon-born Spalding, who at this early juncture of her career, has already written about issues like the environment, racial profiling and the criminal justice system on her last CD, Radio Music Society.
“I became aware of the work Free The Slaves was doing a couple of years ago,” Spalding says. “A friend sent me a link to a CNN feature about their work. And what struck me was their philosophy of sustainability: They work with local governments and community watch groups to make sure that the situations don’t arise again that lead to powerlessness. They do community outreach with posters, pamphlets, brochures, education and job training, so that [the disempowered] can become self-sufficient.”
“What attracted Esperanza to our work in the anti-slavery movement was our belief that survivors of slavery need to be at the heart of the movement,” says Free The Slaves Major Gifts Officer, Sarah Gardner. “I was in our business office a year-and-a-half-ago with our finance administrator, and we were looking over some names of supporters and we saw Esperanza’s name. She found us on her own accord...So I called the number on her record, and [she] answered the phone during her photo shoot! I was taken aback by the fact that she was drawn to the work before we developed a relationship. The thoroughness, detail and expertise that she puts into her own art and music mirror the thoroughness, detail and expertise she puts into understanding slavery.”
In addition to a live auction and merchandise sale, various ticket levels will be available, including a VIP meet and greet with Spalding. 100% of ticket sales, live auction items, and merchandise will go to Free the Slaves on this special evening.
“It’s a special year doing this because we’re coming on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Spalding says. “So I think it’s a good time to remind people that the abolitionist struggle is not over. And that of us who are the beneficiaries of freedom fighters can use our freedom to help liberate other people around the world.”
-Eugene Holley, Jr
"A Night for Freedom" will take place on at City Winery, 155 Varick Street in New York City on Tuesday, December 4 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are available here