Windsor

Freedom Singer celebrates the songs and stories of the Underground Railroad

A multimedia musical celebrating the songs and stories of the slaves who found freedom on the Underground Railroad is being showcased at The Capitol Theatre Friday.

Production blends original music with stories and songs from the 1850s

Freedom Singer celebrates the songs and stories of the Underground Railroad. (BASELINEMUSIC)

A multimedia musical celebrating the songs and stories of the slaves who found freedom on the Underground Railroad is being showcased at The Capitol Theatre Friday.

The production blends the original music of Juno-nominated musician Khari Wendel McClelland, who grew up in Detroit but has deep roots in Windsor, with stories and the songs that fleeing slaves would have sung on their dangerous journey to freedom. 

It tells the inspirational story of Kizzy, the great-great-great grandmother of McClelland. Kizzy was a slave who fled slavery in the United States in the 1850s and settled in Amherstburg, where she ultimately lost her legs to the bitter cold.

"She like many others fled by night with the hope that there would be safe houses on the way going north," said McClelland, emphasizing the extraordinary risk that flight to freedom entailed. "The consequences for fleeing could be as much as death and the punishments were so severe."

McClelland said he decided to explore the story of Kizzy because she "has always been a touchstone" for his family, a "mythological matriarch" to whom they could turn when they felt "lost or despondent" or needed "guidance and strength."

Show makes his mom feel good

The show is being showcased across the country but performing so close to home has been a special experience, said McLelland.

"My mom tells me how grateful she is to see one of our ancestors be honoured in this way," he said. "It fills her up. It makes her feel really good."

The production is influenced by everything from gospel to folk to hip hop to jazz and is more like a concert than a traditional musical, said McClelland, giving "tone" and "context" to Kizzy's journey.

Tap on the player below to hear McClelland's full interview with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre.