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A Voice Inspired by an Activist: Charleah’s Story

Eleventh grader, Charleah Collington, has been singing since she was three-years-old. Along with her long-term goal to be a lawyer, Charleah has a vision to, one day, sing gospel music professionally. In the meantime, she’s developing her gifted voice with a multi-talented group called FRESHH Inc., a hip-hop theater ensemble of young women, ages 13–20, who pay tribute to “warrior women.”

Recently, Charleah, who was excused from after-school for this special occasion, and the all-girls-group of eight performed for the Women’s Voices Theater Festival and honored well-known artists in a high-energy performance titled “We Speak their Names – A Tribute to Warrior Women.” During the hour-long performance at the Kennedy Center, Charleah wowed the audience with her rendition of Nina Simone’s “I’ve Put a Spell on You.” Charleah reminded us of Nina Simone’s soulful sound that changed the industry in the 1960s, a pivotal era in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Charleah Collington, 11th grader, performed at the Kennedy Center with her all-girls group FRESHH, Inc.

“I love all kinds of artists,” said Charleah. “But I’m really inspired by those who use their music to say something meaningful. It’s those artists whose lyrics will live on forever because they made a difference in the world.”

Nina Simone, whom Charleah emulated so well during her solo performance, was much more than an American singer, songwriter, pianist, or arranger. She was a Civil Rights Activist whom Charleah chose to reenact because she is a “warrior woman” whose music made a statement during this unforgettable time in history. While Charleah chose to perform Simone’s popular hit, “I’ve Put a Spell on You,” Nina Simone is also known for using her music to highlight injustice. Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” was the song where she openly addressed the racial inequality that was on the rise in the US. The number was a response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Alabama that killed four black girls.

Thurgood Marshall Academy provides students with the resources and knowledge they need to advocate for themselves and their communities. By introducing our students to pioneering revolutionaries who use their craft to stand up for equality, we give them real-life examples to follow.

See Charleah and FRESHH, Inc. in action below. Charleah’s Nina Simone rendition starts at time-stamp 31.40.

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