Memphis is known for blues, rock, and rap, but on Feb. 27, it celebrates a blooming heritage of local opera when Dr. Todd Payne and Dr. Ebony Preston return home to sing in a benefit concert for the Munford High School Choir. Both artists are alums of Munford High School and The University of Memphis. The concert is a musical homecoming at the end of Black History Month, recognizing the two alums as well as their roots both in the Memphis and in the various traditions of African American music.
“The entire project is certainly a thrill,” said Peter Colin, Jr., the school’s Director of Choirs. “For the current students to see accomplished people who started exactly where they sit now in school is a so motivating. And they both sing so well. This concert is going to be outstanding.”
Payne teaches voice at Missouri State University. He received his masters and doctorate from The University of Illinois after graduating from Memphis. Opera credits include Crown in Porgy and Bess, and Balthasar in Amahl in the Night Visitors. He has performed with Lyle Lovett, Nathan Gunn, the Chicago Opera Theatre, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Memphis, and the Indianapolis Symphony. In addition, he has served on the board of the Springfield Regional Opera. Preston received her doctorate from Louisiana State University and was a scholarship recipient of the American Institute of Musical Studies Summer Apprentice Program in Graz, Austria. Preston was a District Winner and a Regional Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Grand Prize-Winner of both Opera Birmingham and the National Orpheus Competition. Active primarily in Europe, she has sung in Teatro Massimo Bellini, National Theatre Mannheim, and Hamburg State Opera as well as the Ibagué International Jazz Festival in Colombia. Within the United States, she has appeared with the Alabama Symphony, Opera Memphis, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Opera Theater.
It’s another exciting performance for the MHS Choir, following appearances at Live at the Garden with Foreigner, FedEx Forum for the Grizzlies, and their Carnegie Hall debut this past Easter. The concert will be a fundraiser for the public school choir who is looking to raise financial support through ways beyond typical school fundraising.
Colin went on to say that “everybody sells cookie dough, everybody has a car wash. If you’re going to donate money to our kids, I think you should get to enjoy the real value of that financial support, in an evening of really great music right in our backyard with local talent. Bringing guests from the world’s stage to Munford connects quality music to our kids, our community, and our donors-hopefully they see us and feel their patronage is a very worthy investment.”
Colin, himself an alum of the choirs at Munford and The University of Memphis, will conduct the concert. The piano accompaniment will be provided by fellow Memphis alum and local music luminary, Gary Beard. Information about the choir and its concert series is listed at www.munfordchoir.com. This is the choir’s third of four concerts held at Munford High School, with the final performance coming in May saluting another local musician: Justin Timberlake.
Senior choir student Hunter Doo says he’s excited “to sing with professional musicians who’ve sung all over the world. It’s going to be amazing to hear them and sing with them. It will push us to be even better than we are.”
The Todd Payne and Ebony Preston Homecoming Concert is Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. The concert will be held at Munford High School with no cost of admission, though there will be donation stations to give in support of the choir’s performance season and educational programs. Call 840-9644 or visit munfordchoir.com for all questions