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Hamilton’s gift: ‘Great Joy’ 

Freda Payne, Savion Glover and more Friday at Robinson Center.

JOYFUL: Lawrence Hamilton
  • JOYFUL: Lawrence Hamilton

Lawrence Hamilton is calling on a few friends to get the holiday season started right in Little Rock.

Hit rhythm and blues singer Freda Payne and tap-dancer extraordinaire Savion Glover will join Hamilton and other performers at Robinson Center Music Hall on Friday, Dec. 2. Hamilton’s show, “Great Joy: A Very Special Christmas,” will also include local saxophonist Michael Eubanks, spoken word artist Marcus Montgomery, singer Twana Campbell, a 25-piece orchestra, and the Philander Smith College Choir, which Hamilton directs.

“It’s going to be a fun evening, a very uplifting show,” Hamilton promises.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $22, $32 and $42 and available though Celebrity Attractions, Third and Spring streets (244-8800), and all Ticketmaster locations (Harvest Foods stores, charge by phone at 975-7575 and online at www.ticketmaster.com).

Hamilton says he feels “great joy” just to be singing. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease earlier this year and had his most recent chemotherapy treatment a little more than two weeks ago. He was diagnosed and treated in New York, where he spends part of the year when not in Little Rock, and says the disease is in remission. He says he has a bone marrow transplant still to come, though, and will need annual monitoring.

“I lost both my parents to cancer, but the doctor says ‘We can cure you Mr. Hamilton,’ ” he said. “I have a lot of joy in my life right now. You never know, you don’t know when life is going to jump up and bite you.”

Hamilton performed the show “Souvenir” at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in June as he began treatments. “It was very
hard for me to sing. The tumor was near my throat, on the side of my neck,” he said. “I just didn’t want to tell anybody. I didn’t want a pity party.

“I’m always about, if I can do anything to help anyone. In this case, people were in my corner … the big C word frightened me to death, and I’m still afraid but not as afraid of it as I was. I’ve got a lot of joy to share now, a great joy, and the music is so wonderful.”

Hamilton’s choir will sing a gospel arrangement of traditional Christmas songs, including “O Holy Night,” and a cappella arrangements of “Have You Heard About the Baby” and “A Babe Is Born.” Hamilton will sing “Mary Did You Know” and join the choir for “Joseph’s Lament,” written by a trio of Hamilton’s friends from Broadway. Mostly, though, he said his time will be spent conducting the orchestra and choir.

Glover will tap dance to “Little Drummer Boy” and “whatever else he wants to do. I’m so glad to get him here. He’s one of the younger generation of great performers,” Hamilton said.

Though it’s a Christmas-oriented show, expect Payne to sing her No. 1 hit “Band of Gold” as well as such holiday classics as “The Christmas Song” and others.

The THEA Foundation, created by Paul Leopolous in honor of his late daughter to give local youths exposure to the arts, is co-sponsoring the event, and proceeds will go to the Philander Smith chorale department.

“Hopefully in the near future I want to start my own foundation,” Hamilton said. “They [THEA] do what I want to do, which would be to help kids who want to go to New York and study theater and band and bring my friends down to teach and instruct and do performances with them. We did that a while back with [opera singer] Jessye Norman. The kids get first-hand experience. Freda is going to talk to the kids at Parkview this week. It’s just educating kids through art.

“And I have so much to be grateful for. I’m glad to be singing today.”

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