By Danielle Miller
The Milwaukee Children’s Choir glimmered alongside the famous vocal quartet as members of the crowd gathered at the front of the stage, and sung the quartet’s classics in a frenzy of dance and music.
“You don’t feel like you’re performing,” said Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, the last original member of the Four Tops. “You’re just out with kids.”\
The Four Tops joined Marco Melendez, the artistic director of the Children’s Milwaukee Choir. Melendez said he wished more big names would help support music programs.
“This is the first in 23 years we’ve done something of this magnitude,” Melendez said.
Choir students were able to interview Fakir about his life as a musician. Their questions, he said, were the best he’s been asked.
“They take something away from it,” Fakir said about the experience. “They find and learn something to enhance them[selves].”
Choir members Annika Potter, Micki Usama, Hannah Fichlner and Clair Gerlach were excited to change up their typical choral program for some new music, and to share the spotlight with people who have lived in it.
“It’s fun to learn something new our parents and grandparents know,” said Fichlner, who has been in the Children’s Choir for 12 years.
Practices began in November, and full rehearsals finished within a month. Melendez was far from worried about the quick lessons, and said the kids picked up the material quickly.
The members said they hoped more collaborations with artist would create more inspiration for future concerts.
“It’s about giving back,” Fakir said. “And it feels good.”
The members are able to tour and has performed at Disneyland, the Grand Canyon and had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall. This year, Melendez said, the group will travel to the Bahamas.
“[Students are] working to build character and to go beyond the music making, but to give them an opportunity to come together in song with friendships that will last a lifetime.” Said Melendez.
The Milwaukee Children’s Choir has been partnering with Milwaukee Public Schools to find music teachers for local schools with programs such as Fill in the Gaps, which allows MPS to utilize the choir’s resources to help support music programs.
The program features Milwaukee Public Schools as well as Sherman Multi-Cultural School.
Melendez said efforts with MPS is ongoing and growing and that this is one of the biggest endeavor with the community.
Melendez said that the concert helped with connecting mature music that has stood the test of time with the children.
The story of the Four Tops is inspirational to the students, Melendez said. saying that you can be a boy from Detroit and still follow your dreams through highs and lows and still make it.
The Four Tops established the popular Motown Sound in the 1960’s, as well as R&B soul and a wide range of genres to become one of the most popular groups of their time. The original quartet featured ‘Duke’ Fakir, Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton.
Fakir has kept the sound alive with the help of his family and friends, including Payton’s son, who had joined the group after his father’s death. Ronnie McNeir and Harold Bonhart have recently joined the group, and are still current members.
“Don’t put dollar signs first,” Fakir said about success. “Just try and be the best.”
Fakir said do what you love and not to worry about the money, and that money was the bi-product of doing your best, but that money shouldn’t be the main goal.
“Always keep love in your heart,” Fakir said. “That’s true path for anything you are going through, love it, love the people you are associated with, everything will come back to you that way.”