Halalisa EnsembleHalalisa Singers / Courtesy Halalisa

UPDATED April 29: Boston-based world-music vocal ensemble The Halalisa Singers, led by artistic director Mary Cunningham,  presented the "Great American Songbook" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, 2024, at First Parish of Arlington, 630 Mass. Ave.

Joining the group were pianist Trevor Berens, percussionist Bertram Lehmann, clarinetist Glenn Dickson and bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, a news release said.

Pieces were modern classics by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Woody Guthrie and others.

Tickets were $25 at www.halalisa.org. For details, email info at halalisa.org -- or check Facebook or Instagram.

“We are so excited to welcome spring with these beloved tunes that have given joy to so many,” Cunningham was quoted as saying in the news release. “Besides their wild popularity, skillful composition and downright fun, many of these pieces resonate with issues and challenges of their – and our – time.”

Details from news release

"With choral aplomb and a rousing piano, 'Gershwin! A Concert Panorama' seamlessly blends some of George Gershwin’s best-loved songs, including 'Fascinating Rhythm,' 'I’ve Got a Crush on You' and 'I Got Rhythm.'

"The chorus showcases tight swing, rhythm and jazz harmonies in the great Duke Ellington’s 'It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),' Harold Arlen’s 'I’ve Got the World on a String' and Kirby Shaw’s smooth and sassy 'Beyond the Sea.'

"Swing is also in full force for Joshua Jacobson and Art Bailey’s arrangement of Sholom Secunda’s classic from the Yiddish theater, 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,' which features a vocal trio á la The Andrews Sisters and Glenn Dickson’s wailing klezmer clarinet. The irresistible 'Java Jive,' arranged by Russell Robinson, extols the joys of a good cup of coffee.

"Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who came to the United States at the age of 5, revised his well-known patriotic song 'God Bless America' in 1938 as World War II loomed, transforming it into what he imagined as a 'peace song' in the face of Hitler’s rise. The song became quite popular even as anti-Semitic groups protested against it. Halalisa sings it in tandem with Woody Guthrie’s 'This Land Is Your Land,' written as a response to Berlin’s hit, which Guthrie felt did not address the Depression-era hardships faced by so many.

“ 'Over the Rainbow' was written by Jewish songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, both children of immigrants who fled pogroms. Their imagined world of peace, joy and perennial blue skies isn’t just a reflection of universal human longing, it’s also an anthem for Jewish survival.

"The high voices of Halalisa sing a jazzified version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s delightful 'My Favorite Things' and the sultry balero-mambo 'Quién Será?/Sway.' The low voices perform Norman Luboff’s lilting 'Yellow Bird,' a Calypso-style song inspired by music of the Caribbean isles, and Kurt Weill’s 'Mack the Knife,' composed for 'The Threepenny Opera' and made famous in America through renditions by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby Darin.

"The concert also showcases the individual voices of Halalisa, as soloists and small groups present Edith Piaf’s signature song 'La Vie En Rose,' 'Makin’ Whoopee' by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn, a duet featuring the Hoagy Carmichael tunes 'Skylark/Stardust,' Cole Porter’s 'Friendship' and, from the Latin American Songbook, Jobim’s 'Corcovado.' "

Soloists included piano, percussion, clarinet and bass players

"The Halalisa Singers are a celebrated world music vocal ensemble of Greater Boston dedicated to the performance of music across cultures and nationalities. Halalisa is a Zulu word for celebration, and in that spirit, Halalisa’s repertoire includes African, Latin, American Spiritual, Gospel, Jewish, Folk and Jazz [genres]. Founded by Nick Page in 1992 and under the leadership of Artistic Director Mary Cunningham since 2004, the chorus offers vibrant performances inspired by the belief that music is a universal language with the power to uplift and unite us all.

"Artistic Director Mary Cunningham is in her 19th year of leading the Halalisa Singers, creating and directing unique and dynamic world music-themed choral concerts. Following her vision to share the music across the Boston area and beyond, Halalisa continues to reach out to wider audiences to perform an ever-expanding repertoire. She is well known in the Boston area as an active choral conductor, vocalist and flute soloist. She has directed music ministry since 2008 in the UU churches of both Melrose and Reading and is a member of the American Choral Directors Association and the Association of UU Music Ministries. A member of the New World Chorale and a frequent performer with the Christmas Revels, Cunningham is on the faculty of the Winchester Community Music School and the Powers Music School in Belmont.

"Pianist, composer and accompanist Trevor Berens plays in many different styles, specializing in avant-garde classical music, traditional classical music and free improvisation. Berens holds degrees in piano performance, composition and music therapy from Loyola Marymount University, California Institute of the Arts and Lesley University. As a collaborator, he enjoys working with solo vocalists and instrumentalists, chamber groups, choruses, dancers and actors. He is the founder, pianist and resident composer of the new music ensemble Sonic Liberation Players. He is the pianist at the First Parish of Stow/Acton and, with his wife, Jessica, runs the Berens Voice and Piano Studio out of Pepperell, Mass.

"Percussionist Bertram Lehmann is a versatile performer who has appeared with artists including Paquito D’Rivera, Danilo Perez, Dave Liebman, Luciana Souza and Dave Samuel’s Caribbean Jazz Project. He teaches at Berklee College of Music and Phillips Academy and has conducted clinics and workshops at Harvard University, Princeton University, Wellesley College, Oberlin College, Moscow Conservatory, Keimyung University in South Korea and elsewhere. He has played on more than 60 recordings with musicians including the Mehmet Sanlikol Big Band, Felipe Salles, Mango Blue, Anat Cohen, Miguel Zenón and Randy Brecker. International performances include appearances in Bermuda, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, India, Israel, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey at venues including Lincoln Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory and The Kennedy Center.

"Clarinetist Glenn Dickson’s band Shirim Klezmer Orchestra has performed across the United States, Canada and Europe and released recordings including Klezmer Nutcracker and Pincus and the Pig, a collaboration with Maurice Sendak. Dickson was a featured soloist for Sidney Lumet’s film 'A Stranger Among Us,' and his original music can be heard on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 'Deconstructing Harry.' His klezmer-fusion band Naftule’s Dream has performed internationally at venues including the Berlin, New York and Montreal jazz festivals and has recorded for John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Dickson is a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant and released his first solo recording 'Wider Than the Sky' in 2023. He teaches at Winchester Community Music School and Wellesley College.

"Bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa has performed with jazz greats including Jimmy Heath, Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson and James Moody. He has performed internationally in Italy, Havana and elsewhere, as well as frequently performing in the Boston area. He teaches at MIT and Phillips Exeter Academy."


Jan. 26, 2024: Halalisa Singers concert took place Jan. 27

This news announcement was published Friday, April 12, 2024, based on information from the Halalisa Singers, and updated April 29, 2024, to indicate that the event took place.