By Keith Forest
The holiday season came to life as Harlem’s own Grammy and Academy Award nominated music group Impact Repertory Theatre, Vy Higgins’ Gospel for Teens…
… and the choir at the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts took center stage for the 35thAnnual Harlem Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Hosted by NY1′s Cheryl Wills, the outdoor, family-affair also featured a soulful holiday greeting from balladeer Alyson Williams who moved the crowed with her own personal rendition of “This Christmas.” Three-time Tony Awards winner Hinton Battle was also on hand. Broadway community’s most respected musical stars debut his first inspirational single, “When I Walk,” and later introduced cast members from his latest off Broadway production Sistas. NY Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, the legendary Roxanne Shante, radio personalities DJ Marley Marl and WBLS own Dr. Bob Lee and other luminaries were also in attendance.
The event, which was sponsored by the New York State Office of General Services, Melba’s Restaurant, Harlem Community Development Corporation, American Express, Harlem Arts Alliance, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Healthfirst, Chez Lucienne and City College of New York, highlights Harlem’s profound legacy and majestic future. As in the past, organizers will once again use this affair as an opportunity to give back to those less fortunate. “This is the community’s tree,” stated Willie Walker, committee member of Holidays in Harlem. “During these difficult economic times, many families in our community are unable to put food on their tables. This ceremony and this tree is our gift to them.”
The history of the Harlem Tree Lighting Ceremony dates back to 1976 when a group of prominent Harlemites decided to celebrate their beloved neighborhood with a ceremonial festival similar to the annual Rockefeller Plaza event. In 1978, with the assistance of New York State office of General Services, Con Edison and the 369th Army National Guard, the first tree was placed in front of Adam Clayton State Office Building. 35 years later, with corporate and community support, the tradition lives on.
This year’s tree is a 30 foot balsam fir tree adorned with an array of cool LED lights.
Photo credit: Top Cheryl Wills (centered right); Vy Higginson (center left) and the Vy Higginson Gospel for Teens take a bow the tree. Bottom Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, George Hulse, VP of External Affairs at Healthfirst, and NY1′s Cheryl Wills.