may, 2019

05may4:00 pm5:30 pmDuke Ellington Sacred Concerts


Event Details






On September 27, 1969, the celebrated jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington brought his big band and vocal soloists to Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church to perform two sold-out concerts of Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert with the Montview Westminster Choir. The concerts united the African-American and White members of the Park Hill neighborhood through the communion of music. To celebrate these historic concerts, Montview’s music minister Adam Waite and the current members of the Westminster Choir (including several members who sang with Ellington in 1969) will present a 50th anniversary performance of selections from the Sacred Concerts on May 5, 2019 in the Montview sanctuary at 4:00pm. Admission is free, but there will be a free-will offering to support the church’s music program. The choir will be joined by a big band and soloists, including trumpeter Shane Endsley, alto saxophonist Anisha Rush, vocalist JeFoKe and tap dancer David Sharpe. In June 2019, several members of the Westminster Choir and the Boulder Chorale will take this music on tour on a river cruise in the Netherlands.


Ellington composed three Sacred Concerts in the last decade of his life. He stated these concerts are the most important work I’ve ever done. Ellington had a unique approach to religion, eschewing typical dogma to focus on universal subjects like love, freedom, respect and brotherhood. Ellington knew that appearances with his world-famous orchestra would attract a core group of fans, but he wanted to spread his message to a wider audience. Therefore, his sacred concerts draw from a broad range of musical styles. Some of the movements are deeply reverent (like his “Come Sunday” adapted from his earlier work, Black, Brown & Beige) while other lyrics contain the directness of folk music and rock (several sections of Freedom). The traditions of Black and White church music come through in the combined pieces Don’t Get Down on Your Knees to Pray and Father Forgive. The thrilling sounds of big band jazz enliven the finale Praise God and Dance.


In 1969, the residents of Denver’s Park Hill region were in the midst of a struggle to integrate their neighborhood. While pamphlets filled with scare tactics about African-American residents had circulated since the 1930s, most of Park Hill’s left-wing residents were happy to welcome black neighbors. Nonetheless, local bankers and realtors strived to keep African-Americans out of Park Hill for fear of lowered property values. Montview Presbyterian became a focal point for the efforts to integrate Park Hill and in 1960 members of eight racially diverse churches met at Montview to form the Park Hill Action Committee. Montview’s minister, Dr. Arthur Miller spearheaded the efforts, and later in the decade, Montview hosted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at the church. In 1967, Dr. Albert Fay Hill replaced Miller as minister. It is believed that Hill knew Duke Ellington, or at least had a connection to his agent. When Ellington’s band was scheduled to perform the Second Sacred Concert on September 27, 1969, the church launched an energetic campaign to bring in an audience from across the Park Hill neighborhood and Denver as a whole. At the time, Montview had a primarily White congregation, but several surviving choir members said that there were more Black people at these concerts than they had ever seen at Montview.


For the 2019 celebration of Duke Ellington’s concerts, Montview Presbyterian Church offers an open invite to people of all races and religions to share this very special music with us.


(Sunday) 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm