Sunday, March 18, 2001

Battle lends voice to church benefit

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Superstar soprano Kathleen Battle will make a special appearance in Cincinnati June 10, for a performance to benefit the Allen Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bond Hill.

        The opera diva will sing a solo recital in Procter & Gamble Hall at the Aronoff Center.

        “It's an effort to do something in a big way,” says Robert Gazaway, minister of music at the Allen Temple A.M.E. Church, which plans to build a new $9 million structure in Bond Hill's Swifton Commons.

        Organizers hope the concert will raise $100,000 for the foundation.

        Mr. Gazaway met Miss Battle when she dropped in unannounced and sang with the church choir during its annual concert two years ago. Ms. Battle's sister, Sharon Patterson, former assistant principal at Aiken High School, is a church member.

        “I was a little overwhelmed, to put it mildly,” Mr. Gazaway says. “Her voice was like Waterford Crystal.”

        At the end of the program, she sang an impromptu solo, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” with Mr. Gazaway at the piano. Later, he got up enough nerve to call her New York agent to see if she would sing a benefit concert for them.

        The Allen Foundation purchased the 34-acre Swifton Commons Mall on Reading Road for $1.2 million in 1998. Part of the planned $40 million renovation includes a new church styled after Robert Shuler's Crystal Cathedral in Ingleside, Calif. A Center for Senior Citizens, staffed by volunteers, is already established.

        “What we envision is a way to empower the African-American community economically,” Mr. Gazaway says. “We see ourselves as servicing the community.”

        The foundation also awards scholarships, supports tutorial programs and summer enrichment camps for students and enhances senior citizen programs.

        Ms. Battle, a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, is one of the most famous graduates of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. A winner of five Grammy Awards and an Emmy, she has performed with nearly every major opera house, orchestra and maestro, including frequent collaborations with Cincinnati native and Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine.

        Tickets, $30, $45 and $55, to the 4 p.m. concert go on sale Monday at the Aronoff Center and Music Hall box offices, Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 241-7469 and online,


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