Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sickle cell patient sponsors concert to benefit St. Jude

Jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum presents Christen Dukes a Certificate of Special
Congressional Recognition for community from the office of 9th Congressional
District Cong. Steve Cohen. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
     The small, intimate crowd was flabbergasted when they noticed one of the world’s greatest jazz saxophonists sitting among them. Christen Dukes, a trombonist, was just as surprised to see Kirk Whalum, the Grammy Award-winning saxophonist and recording artist.
Whalum and his wife, Joyce, made a personal appearance on Saturday, Jan. 18, to support Dukes’ benefit concert and sickle cell awareness program and to stand in the gap for 9th Congressional District Cong. Steve Cohen, who cited the 20-year-old for his musical talent and his philanthropic support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Dukes stood next to Whalum in the pulpit of New Growth in Christ Christian Center at 7550 East Shelby Dr. before the concert began. Dukes had been a patient at the children’s hospital most of his life. He suffers from sickle cell anemia.
Christen Dukes (Courtesy of the
Soulsville Foundation)
Whalum joked that he’d never received a congressional citation. Already familiar with the saxophonist’s impressive music pedigree, Dukes smiled broadly. His smile brightened when Whalum referred to him as his “little brother.”
Whalum is the chief creative officer of the Stax Music Academy and Stax Museum of American Soul, which the non-profit Soulsville Foundation, the parent organization, operates. Dukes is a former student at the music academy, which serves at-risk youth.
The Saturday evening concert was one of two events that Dukes organized to benefit St. Jude. The other was a drum clinic at New Growth on Friday, June 17, featuring Christopher Bounds II, a.k.a. Chris Pat, a premier percussion instructor at the music academy, and David Pruitt, a music academy graduate.
Both Bounds, 28, and Pruitt, 20, unleashed a flurry of rhythmic beats and demonstrated impeccable skills to drum up support for St. Jude. Pruitt called Bounds his mentor. Each drummer explained their drum styles and what compelled them to play a particular song.
“I got the idea to do a drum clinic when I started planning this year’s benefit concert. I got the idea to make it a two-day event and feature great drummers,” said Dukes, noting that he wanted to do something different for his third benefit concert.
The Stax Alumni Band, of which Dukes is a member, kicked off the concert with an old-school tune and flavor reminiscent of the glory days when the legendary Stax Records ruled the charts. Dukes wailed away on his trombone, meshing notes with other horns and song stylists fronting the band.
Also featured in concert were JCKSN Ave., Paul McKinney, Charles Pender II, Tracey Curry-Dell, and Angelica Eboni Angel. The music reverberated in the sanctuary one act after another.
 “This is pretty much a way to give back to St. Jude, because they do so much with kids who have sickle cell,” said Dukes, who graduated from the music academy in 2014 and now attends Visible Music College in Downtown Memphis.
Katherine Williams, Dukes’ mother, noted her son’s commitment to St. Jude. What he’s trying to do, she said, “is educate people about sickle cell and hopefully save someone’s life. That’s one of the reasons why he gives to St. Jude – because they made a difference in his life.”
Dukes was treated at St. Jude from birth until he turned 18. Now he’s receiving treatment at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.
“He goes there for his check-ups,” said Williams. “Some of his doctors who were at St. Jude are at the Center.”
Dukes and his mother are already planning next year’s benefit concert. “Next year, we’re going to have sickle cell screenings on site to determine who has the sickle cell trait,” she said.

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