UAB’s Henry Panion III, Eric Essix leading musical celebration for Human Rights Award event

For the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Human Rights Award celebration, Henry Panion III designed a showcase of Alabama artists and the legacy of the civil rights movement. Central to the production are selections and performing artists from guitarist Eric Essix’s new recording “This Train: The Gospel Sessions.”

Henry Panion IIIbcri shuttlesworth, Ph.D., university professor of music at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will produce the concert for the 24th annual Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award Celebration set for Saturday, Nov. 19, presented by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Panion is the director of Music Technology in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Music.

For the celebration, happening at The Lyric Theatre, he designed a showcase of Alabama artists and the legacy of the civil rights movement, through songs and dance that identify with themes of the movement such as love, healing, freedom, and human and civil rights, he says.

“I’ve arranged for the orchestra and the featured artists classic songs ranging from gospel standards such as ‘This Train’ and ‘Precious Lord’ to classics such as Stevie Wonder’s ‘Love’s In Need of Love Today’ and Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’” Panion said.

The featured artists are Eric Essix, Ruben Studdard, Belinda George Peoples and the Birmingham Sunlights, with a cast including the M.A.D. Skillz Dancers; local vocal favorites Michael J. Watkins from Faith Apostolic Church, Valerie Smith from Mount Canaan Full Gospel Church and Marquita Anthony from Church of the Highlands; spoken word by Sharrif Simmons; and the Miles College Choir, all backed by some of Alabama’s best orchestral musicians. Panion will be the music director and conductor for the evening. CBS 42’s Sherri Jackson will be mistress of ceremonies. 

Central to the production are selected numbers and performing artists from guitarist Essix’s new recording “This Train: The Gospel Sessions.” Essix, a Birmingham native, is artist-in-residence and director of Programming at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.

“When Dr. Panion heard my new album, he asked me if I would be interested in performing some of the music from the record at this event and also include some of the people who were a part of making it,” Essix said. “One of the goals for me in making the record was to involve as many Alabamians as possible in the creative process, and I believe that matched the vision Dr. Panion has in producing this program for the BCRI.”

The show will close with Panion’s arrangement of Wonder’s “Heaven Help Us All,” which was commissioned by the City of Birmingham for the 50th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and featured as part of the worldwide Dance the Dream tributes in London, Paris, Prague, New York, Beirut, Kabul, Jerusalem, Singapore, Mumbai, Dublin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Seattle and Birmingham.  

The concert celebrates the work of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Shuttlesworth’s legacy and this year’s honoree, U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. For more information, visit the BCRI site at

  • November 19