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Old-school R&B in Freeport draws hundreds

Lance Berquin poses in front of a mural

Lance Berquin poses in front of a mural in the hallways of Freeport High School. Berquin is the captain of the Operation Pride Dance Team and says he aspires to be a professional dancer. (June 29, 2012) Credit: Fran Berkman

In the hallway just outside the Freeport High School classroom that professional rhythm and blues artists were using as their dressing room for the night, student Lance Berquin, 15, stood practicing his dance moves.

“I’m the next Chris Brown,” he announced, referring to the rapper known for his hip-hop dance moves.

Berquin’s proclamation caused raucous laughter among the other three students who sat with their backs against the wall.

The group of teens were surprise performers at the charity concert, A Night of Old School R&B, hosted by Freeport Pride, an organization that provides substance abuse and prevention programs, as well as youth counseling aimed at preventing drug use and criminal behavior. The event took place in the Freeport High School auditorium on Friday.

Freeport Pride has existed since 1970, but Tedd Levy, who has been executive director since 1974, said this is the first time it is hosting a fundraising concert.

Levy said the magnitude of planning that goes into hosting this type of event can be cumbersome and distract from the normal goals of the organization, but extra fundraising efforts have become a necessity due to county funding cuts to youth and mental health agencies.

Levy estimated that Freeport Pride is going to lose about $350,000 annually, which amounts to about a quarter of its county funding.

“In order to exist, we have to do our best to raise money,” he said.

The event drew ticket sales of more than 300, and Levy expects the proceeds to total between $1,000 and $2,000.

“It’s a lot of work and that’s not a tremendous amount of money to make, but every penny counts,” he said.

Finances aside, Levy said he was extremely pleased with the event, and that he received plenty of positive feedback from audience members.

Roosevelt resident Leona Shaw-Crummell attended the show and described the performers as “excellent.” As a member of the Creative Jazz Organization of Queens, Shaw travels to Cambria Heights on a weekly basis to enjoy live jazz and R&B.

The concert featured three professional tribute acts. Vocal trio True Image warmed up the crowd with its version of “Heaven Must be Missing an Angel.” Lead singer Larry Love kept the crowd involved by shifting from a precise falsetto singing voice to his bassy speaking voice to encourage clap-alongs.

Next, a nine-piece act called Exquisite Band played a range of Motown classics from “Where Did Our Love Go” to “At Last.” The group had four singers who traded off lead vocal duties while stepping to the rhythms set by drummer Howie Grate, who played on a sparkling silver drum kit.

Wayne Holmes closed the show with his “Tribute to the Genius of Ray Charles.” Wearing dark sunglasses, Holmes bobbed his head vigorously while his backup singers, wearing gold dresses, sang the chorus to “Hit the Road Jack.”

The surprise guests were a group of four current Freeport High School students -- Berquin; Elijah Bey, 17; Antoine Olushoga, 15; and Javonn Ross, 16 -- and Elijah Lewis, 18, who graduated just days earlier.

Under the moniker Old School Goes New School, the five teens sang and danced to a medley of songs made famous by the Temptations and the Four Tops including “My Girl” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).”

All five members of the group are involved with the club Operation Pride, which is run by Freeport Pride. They described Operation Pride as an organization with about 50 students that is involved with a range of activities aimed at keeping high school teens away from drugs, alcohol and gangs.

“It was such a great experience; I really love [Operation Pride],” said Lewis.

Asked if they felt the club achieved its goal of keeping teens out of trouble, Bey, Ross and Olushoga immediately and simultaneously responded yes.

Levy said the funding cuts will likely cost Freeport Pride its youth program, which provides counseling to some 200 teens each year.

The group is planning to demonstrate outside the Nassau County Legislative and Executive building on Franklin Avenue in Garden City on July 6, the day that the funding cuts are scheduled to take effect.

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