Nashville certainly lived up to its name of Music City while celebrating Earth Day Wednesday evening (April 22) as Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Dierks Bentley joined Big & Rich's Kenny Alphin to use the power and gift of music to help underprivileged children in Africa.
Photo Credit: Ed Rode
Artists from several other genres also shared the stage with the African Children's Choir at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center to raise money for new schools and medical and educational supplies in Africa, particularly in Uganda and Sudan.
The sold-out concert, called Nashville4Africa, was the first of its kind in Middle Tennessee and was hosted by Alphin and MuzikMafia member Damien Horne. More than a dozen acts graced the stage, including Grammy-winning rock-gospel singer-songwriter Ashley Cleveland, the SteelDrivers, singer-songwriter Brandon Young and members of 3 Doors Down, Third Day and Jars of Clay.
Prior to the show, several of the artists spoke with journalists backstage and expressed their concerns and aspirations for the children living in Africa.
"First of all, anything that helps children, I'm very interested in," Hill said. "I think it's important to understand that we're trying to build schools for these children, and there are places in the world where children do not even have the choice to go to school because there is not one that exists."
Hill added, "And after meeting the kids [from the choir] today ... I fell in love with every single one of them."
Bentley shared a similar sentiment.
"Anything for the kids is always great," he said. "Having a kid makes you always want to help, whether it be sick ones here in the States or these kids on a whole other plane of having a tough time. It's not about just trying to go to school. It's about trying to survive. A lot of these kids have lost their parents growing up in war-torn regions, and they really are a beacon of hope that's going across the whole country."
Earlier this week, Bentley took the Children's African Choir to Ocean Way Studios in Nashville where they recorded a song together he hopes to use on his next album.
"They weren't just doing backup vocals," he said. "They were actually singing some of the chorus, great harmonies. The singing alone speaks for itself, let alone the story behind it is even more inspiring."
Urban, too, shared his concerns prior to the show, noting, "I certainly have a passion for children's causes. We've been with St. Jude for a few years now, and the W.O. Smith Music School here in Nashville, and so when I learned about the work Kenny's been doing with the kids in Africa -- Uganda and Sudan, in particular -- I looked for a way that I could be involved, and he mentioned this concert was coming up. And here we are."
The night's show was filled with several of the artists performing their own hits, including Urban's "Somebody Like You" and Bentley's "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)." Alphin performed several songs and duets and also sang "Last Dollar (Fly Away)," a song he wrote that became a No. 1 hit for Tim McGraw.
The children's choir joined Hill for a touching rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" and Bentley in "It's a Beautiful World," a song he originally recorded with Patty Griffin on his current album, Feel That Fire. With the choir backing a majority of the songs of the night, the evening's emphasis seemed centered on not a particular genre or song, but rather on the cause at hand.
"It's about love," Urban said. "It transcends everything."
At one point in the night, Alphin swabbed his mouth onstage as part of what he called, the Genographic Project, a test that traces a person's DNA back to that individual's origins and ancestors.
"This is going to trace everything back to my origins," he said, "and I'm hoping that it will prove that the sky truly is our ceiling, the ground truly is our floor and the world truly is our one big, happy home."
Undoubtedly, the night's main attraction of the evening proved to be the African Children's Choir. The young group danced, sang and charmed the audience throughout the entire evening with not only their background support but also with their own original music and choreography. The choir performed songs celebrating Uganda and also their own versions of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "Oh, Happy Day." The children's energy was contagious as the audience stood on their feet, dancing and singing right along with the children's choir.
To conclude the evening, Alphin encouraged all of the performers as well as the audience to join in for one large, group singalong. The choir, Big Kenny and a majority of the night's performers sang together for a medley of songs like "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and "Stand by Me," the perfect finale to a night of music and harmony.
View photos from the show.