Songs of the City is an unforgettable evening of story and song thanking United Way supporters for their ongoing and generous gifts. This free event will bring together the community to celebrate the human spirit, generosity and the power of sharing personal stories and song. Three local speakers - all recipients of United Way support - tell their stories of recovery from lives of profound need with help from United Way funded agencies. Each Story is followed by original songs written for and about these remarkable people by Canadian artists of the highest caliber: Jackie Richardson, Shakura Saida, Barbra Lica, Robert Pilon and St. Catharines' own James Bryan.
Songs of the City exclusive performance will be held at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on June 1, 2018 at 7:30pm.
Tickets are free, but need to be reserved through the box office.
A Sneak Peek of the stories.
Joe and Lindsay Sanford: Joe (31) and Lindsay (29) are married .Joe was on the street at 14, thrown out of an abusive home. He spent the next many years in and out of prison, suffering homelessness and drug addiction. Lindsay was on the street at 13 and, like Joe ended up homeless, drug addicted and at great risk. They met several years ago, enabled each other’s addictions, had a child who was removed from their care by Child And Family Services. Something remarkable happened to them a few years ago and they decided to get clean together. With the help of Start Me Up Niagara they did indeed get clean and are now married.
They are humble, quiet and honourable people who after years of unimaginable problems are, together, working for a better life.
Jennifer Symonds: Jennifer is about 30 years old. She uses a motorized scooter for mobility. Her parents divorced when she was a little girl. She wrote “The divorce put us three kids in the middle of a war that is still going on today”. She became anorexic, was diagnosed with learning disabilities and fell into various and profound social difficulties and depression. She bounced back and forth between her parents and sister’s separate homes. She has attempted suicide. When she was ready, Westview Centre4Women was there for her and with their help, Jennifer has slowly and with immense personal effort pulled herself out of depression and sees a brighter future for the first time in her life. She has a job, writes fan fiction and is increasingly engaging with the world around her.
Although still terribly socially anxious and struggling with self-worth, she is committed to telling her story. She’s a remarkable woman with an elusive but lovely sense of humour.
Elizabeth Bell: Drug addicted in her early teens - her first boyfriend was also her pusher, and after sustaining her habit with petty theft, Elizabeth finally ended up turning to stripping to support her habit. Anecdotes of those years that she’s shared tell of a life that we imagine only exists in the movies. But Elizabeth is an extraordinarily intelligent and determined young women. As she said to me “I didn’t get tired of the drugs I got tired of the people."
Elizabeth got clean several years ago with the help of YWCA,put herself through college and is now a hairdresser in St. Catharines. She is charming, tough as nails and deeply articulate about her life. There is a joy about her that is contagious.
Each of these wonderful people speak from their hearts and through their years of tribulation. They offer proof, that with enough help, everyone can have dignity and love. But each is still extremely vulnerable.
Laura Secord Secondary School Choir
With its Sing Across the World project, the award-winning Laura Secord Secondary School Choir has raised thousands for World Vision child sponsorship. In their travels, they have worked with internationally acclaimed artists, such as Kenny Rogers, and have performed special concerts for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Nelson Mandela Family. More locally, they have been part of Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games, ET Canada’s New Year’s Eve 2015 live broadcast, and United Way’s 2015 Songs of the City event. The choir is directed by David Sisler, a recipient of the “Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.”
Few songwriter/producers balance musicality and inspiration in the studio as effortlessly as James Bryan. Hailed as one of Canada’s top guitarists, James has the ability to make an artist feel both relaxed and empowered to create great music, and his track record with Nelly Furtado, Yuna, Backstreet Boys, Olly Murs, Luis Fonsi and many more have proven the success of his approach.
“With anyone I work with, my goal is to find what makes them unique and nurture that until it shines bright enough for the whole world to see and hear.”
Shakura’s long-simmering career initially moved into high gear in 2008 with a triumph at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, when she earned the runner-up position, competing against more than 100 bands from more than 20 different countries. You may have seen her in her 4 woman tribute to Nina Simone, “The Nina Project” or acting in TV shows such as Lost Girl, Schitt’s Creek or Flashpoint. From her beginnings as the world music band Kaleefah’s lead singer, this versatile vocalist and consummate entertainer has blown audiences away with her scorching vocal style, uncanny ability to deliver powerful original songs and to get deep into the guts of the most venerable standard. Shakura S’Aida has consistently been thrilling audiences with her powerful pipes for years.
Jackie began her career at the age of 7 singing in her church choir and by time she turned 17, she was fronting her first group, ‘The Tiaras’ with her sister Betty and Brenda Russell. Since those early years, Jackie Richardson has become one of Canada’s most highly regarded stars of gospel, jazz, and blues. She is also well known for her of stage, screen, and studio work. Possessing a powerful yet supple voice she seems perfectly matched with her vibrant stage presence. Over the years she has been honoured for her work with awards and nominations for JUNOs, Geminis, Maple Blues and a Canadian Black Achievement Award for the Arts.
Barbra Lica is a Canadian jazz singer and songwriter based in Toronto. She grew up surrounded by musicians and was constantly encouraged to broaden her musical horizons. She discovered jazz at the age of six and immediately began to sing along to the music of Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. She was named one of Canada’s top upcoming female jazz artists and was the first runner-up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition. Lica received her first Juno Award nomination in 2017 for I’m Still Learning under the category Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.
Singer Robert Pilon was proud to have played the lead role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and The Phantom, in the Toronto production of Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre. He starred in his television special, A Canadian in New York, which garnered 2 international awards. He has 2 CD’s, and been a special guest on others including 2 Frank Mills albums, the 125th special recording of the Canadian National Anthem featuring Canadian recording artists and on the original cast recording of the musical Ragtime, all of which have made him a global ambassador for Canada. He was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.