Yo-Yo Ma holds second Concert for Peace at St. Sabina

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
June 13, 2018

Yo-Yo Ma holds second peace concert at St. Sabina

World famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma led the second Concert for Peace at St. Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Place, June 10, 2018. The concert featured original music created with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Negaunee Institute and the parish group Purpose Over Pain in tribute to young people who lost their lives to gun violence. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Michael Pfleger and Yo-Yo Ma take questions from news media before the concert. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Michael Pfleger and Yo-Yo Ma take questions from news media. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Chicago Children's Choir performs from the church sanctuary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Anthanette Marshbanks participates in her song "One Red Rose," a tribute to her son Archie Lee Chambers Jr. killed by gun violence. Singers Takesha Meshe Kizart and Sarah Ponder stand with her. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Anthanette Marshbanks participates in her song "One Red Rose," a tribute to her son Archie Lee Chambers Jr. killed by gun violence. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Diana Pierce plays a recording of her son Coby's voice before her song "Peace and Love, Coby" is performed. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A woman wipes tears from her eyes during one of the tribute songs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Takesha Meshe Kizart performs one of the tribute songs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Pamela Bosley, founder of Purpose Over Pain, introduces a song written by her son Trevon for his murdered brother Terell. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yo-Yo Ma addresses the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yo-Yo Ma, musicians from the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Civic Orchestra and members of the Chicago Children's Choir perform "I Need You to Survive" at the concert's end. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yo-Yo Ma acknowledges applause from the crowd. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Erina Yashima conducts the musicians including Yo-Yo Ma. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yo-Yo Ma performs during the concert. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Chicago Children's Choir perform. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his Concert for Peace to St. Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Place, a second time on June 10, there was a special feature — five original works written with family members who lost loved ones to gun violence as tribute to the people who died.

They are among 24 original songs created by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute and Purpose Over Pain, a St. Sabina organization of parents who have lost children to gun violence. 

The idea to create the songs came after Ma saw the memorial board outside the parish that features photos of all the people connected to the parish killed by gun violence.

Ma first visited St. Sabina in spring 2017 on a Sunday in between morning Masses. Father Michael Pfleger was told a man claiming to be Yo-Ya Ma was in the church and wanted to meet him. The senior pastor thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.

Ma had stopped by the church on his way to the airport and explained he followed the priest’s work against violence and wanted to help.

“A lot of people tell me they want to help and do nothing. I always get my hopes up and wonder what’s next. About two weeks later I got a call and they said ‘Yo-Yo is serious. He wants to help,’” Pfleger said during a preconcert press conference. “The only thing better than his talent is his spirit. He used his gift to invite people — not to come downtown, not to the Symphony Center, not to Grant Park —  but to 78th Place.”

Ma, who is the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, said he now feels part of St. Sabina and even though he doesn’t live in Chicago, when he reads about the gun violence in the city, he feels the pain.

So Ma and the Negaunee Music Institute asked people who lost family members to gun violence to share the stories of their loved ones and their grief and pain with songwriters and composers. The families and songwriters wrote the lyrics and composers wrote the songs. It wasn’t just mothers who wrote songs but siblings and children too. Families gave some advice on the sound, saying they wanted the songs to be slow and jazz-like.

In some cases, family members sang the lyrics themselves. Desiree Smith recorded a rap song about her dad, Dontee Smith. All the songs are available, along with photos of those who died, at

In the case of Rolanda Lakesia Marshall, who died in 1993 at 14, her song was the lyrics of a poem she wrote.

Hardly anyone, from the musicians and singers to the audience members, would be unaffected when hearing the five songs performed, Ma told reporters.

“One of the singers said to me you know I’m going to be a mess today but every time I sing the ‘Song for Terrell,’ gradually I realize that my job is to deliver the message and I have to do it in a way that is very clear,” Ma said. “That’s the musician’s role. You first empathize with someone but then you actually have to deliver the message clear so someone else gets it.”

Working on the songs for their children was another step in the healing process, said Pamela Bosley, founder of Purpose Over Pain. Bosley’s son Terrell, who loved to play the bass guitar, was shot and killed in 2006 at age 18.

“For most of the parents music is a way of healing,” Bosley said, whose son Trevon wrote the lyrics for “Song for Terrell,” which Ma performed with members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

“A lot of times we hold our pain within but if somebody sits you down and says ‘Tell me about your son and what you feel,’ that allows you to express it and let it out,” she said. “There were a lot of emotions with this project, a lot of crying but we made it through and with the help of God we were able to get songs.”
Terrell always wanted to travel the world as a musician and now he will do that through this song, Bosley said.  

“I believe in my heart that Terrell and the rest of the children are looking down on us and are happy that the orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma thought enough to write songs on behalf of our children,” she said.



  • gun violence
  • yo-yo ma

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