The party’s at Dreamland this Friday night as Jerry Bennett and The Sultans of Swing dance band ensemble performs at the Island’s largest live music venue in a benefit show for Media Voices for Children.
The Sultans perform at functions all over the U.S. with different musicians drawn from an extensive pool of professionals. This particular lineup will feature a seven piece band playing piano, bass, guitar, and drums including three vocalists – the Vineyard’s own Joanne Cassidy, Jeremy Hardy from New York, and American Idol finalist Erika Van Pelt.
Media Voices for Children is a nonprofit dedicated to the rights and welfare of impoverished and exploited children all over the world. Len Morris, co-founder and editorial director, is thrilled to have the in-demand dance band performing to help support the education and advocacy work he and his wife, Georgia Morris, have been doing for more than 15 years.
“This event is made possible because of Jerry Bennett and The Sultans of Swing,” says Mr. Morris, noting that the musicians are all donating their talent to the cause. “Jerry has wanted to help Media Voices for a couple of years now. The biggest problem was finding the venue. Now we’ve got this space with a huge dance floor, great stage and sound system, and 500-person capacity.”
The Sultans perform a variety of music from top-40 and hip hop to Motown and other rock and roll. The rotating outfit, which entertains at hundreds of weddings and other events every year, is known for providing a fun party atmosphere, engaging the audience, and packing the dance floor. Ms. Cassidy has been one of the group’s most popular front women for many years now. Mr. Hardy, one of the newest Sultan members, is described as having a lot of energy and a booming, powerful voice.
A longtime member of the Sultans’ family, Ms. Van Pelt of South Kingstown R.I., placed 10th in last season’s “American Idol.” Since her performances on that top rated TV show she has appeared on the “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and was part of the American Idols LIVE Tour 2012. Among other venues, she has headlined at Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and Boston’s Hard Rock Cafe, and appeared in numerous musical theater productions around the country.
All of the money raised will go to Media Voices for Children initiatives. According to a press release, Media Voices for Children is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness of the needs of poor children in the U.S. and around the world, through documentary film production, public advocacy, and direct action.
“Basically we’re involved in four things — production, advocacy, education, and the direct service we do in Kenya,” Mr. Morris says. For example, The Kenyan Schoolhouse project founded in 2002 provides education, boarding, and medical care for impoverished and homeless children.
The other arms of the organization include a production company, Galen Films, that is currently completing the final documentary in a series exploring child labor and homelessness; lobbying and advocacy surrounding ongoing child welfare reform initiatives; and an online resource for gathering information, video and articles, pertaining to child labor and other related issues.
“It’s all really integrated and all relates to the same central theme of the the welfare of children,” says Mr. Morris. He and his wife first got involved in what has become an all-consuming passion when they were asked by the Department of Labor to conduct film interviews and write the first report on child labor for Congress in 1998.
“What we saw was so shocking and so medieval,” says Mr. Morris. The experience inspired the veteran filmmakers to make a documentary, which took seven years and involved travel to eight countries. The film, “Stolen Childhoods,” narrated by Meryl Streep, was featured on Oprah, CNN, and Nightline and has been translated into seven languages and screened throughout the world.
Their filmmaking efforts led the Morrises to launch the website, mediavoicesforchildren.org. The site provides an aggregate resource for reporting work done by like-minded organizations and individuals.
“It’s a place where we can more fully utilize the work we’ve done and at the same time reach out to the global community,” says Mr. Morris. “We cover not just the chronic issues but the most egregious violations as they come up and what the world organizations are not doing.” Since Media Voices was launched, more than 100 organizations have contributed content.
Mr. Morris has since stepped up his pro-active involvement. He has become a respected and often-consulted expert on child labor and related issues. He makes frequent lobbying and consulting trips to Washington, D.C. Media Voices is one of 28 organizations that make up the Child Labor Coalition. Recently, Mr. Morris received the Iqbal Masih Award from Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis for “extraordinary efforts to end the worst forms of child labor” at an awards ceremony in D.C.
Next month, Media Voices will launch their first Kickstarter.com (an online fundraising platform) campaign to raise money to complete the editing work on their latest film, as well as to help fund other projects. “It’s a great way to attract a community to your project,” says Mr. Morris.
The Media Voices conglomerate, which is almost entirely staffed by Islanders, has gotten a lot of support from the local community. Film screenings and other fundraisers have been well attended and have helped spark interest in the organization’s numerous projects.
Media Voices for Children’s Holiday Ball, Friday, Dec. 14, 9 pm, Dreamland, Oak Bluffs. $10 cash or check; $15 with credit card. 21+, cash bar.
For more information about the nonprofit, visit mediavoicesforchildren.org.