Performer China-bound to sing about King

September Penn will join others in song to tell of the civil rights leader's life.

Published June 6, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - St. Petersburg singer September Penn and four other performers from the United States will join the National Theater Company of China in the international premiere of a play about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this month.

Penn, whose repertoire includes gospel, contemporary Christian and classical music, is ecstatic about the opportunity to perform in China.

"I'm a little overwhelmed, but I know that I am extremely blessed to be offered this opportunity, " she said. "It's certainly nothing I ever planned for. These are doors I know that God has opened and it's certainly a delight to be able to walk through these doors."

Passages of Martin Luther King, written by Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson, tells the story of the civil rights leader's life. It has been performed in the United States for more than a decade.

For its Beijing premiere, the dialogue will be in Chinese and the songs, mostly hymns, spirituals and freedom songs, will be in English.

Penn, 35, will join Kenneth Alston, a member of the internationally known group, Three Mo' Tenors, and three Stanford students in singing such songs as I Feel Like a Motherless Child, If I Can Help Somebody, Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around and Precious Lord.

She has been singing her entire life, the mother of three said.

"I probably came out of the womb singing, " she said, adding that her earliest memories are of Friday night rehearsals for a family group that performed at churches.

Penn, originally from Gretna, Va., is the worship leader at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater. She has performed in the play about King twice. The first time was in 2006, at Stanford University, where her husband, Ivan, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times, was studying on a fellowship. She recently performed in the play again in Oakland.

She has been busily preparing for the five performances in China. She has been taking private voice lessons and has also been talking frequently by phone to Alston of Three Mo' Tenors. They even practice on the phone, she said. They've also been doing conference calls with the other singers.

The play will be performed June 21 to 24 and highlight the Martin Luther King Jr. Week celebration in Beijing. Penn and her husband leave for China on Saturday.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.