Making a Difference: Spotlighting the Arts
In 1993, Everett McCorvey, at the time an assistant professor of voice at the University of Kentucky, and a colleague seized on an idea to create a new musical revue to showcase his students’ performing talents.
They called the revue It’s a Grand Night For Singing!. And the show’s opening, which had to be delayed by 20 minutes to accommodate the crowd that had swelled for tickets, proved to be a harbinger of the good things to come.
For its 25th anniversary in 2017, Grand Night was produced for broadcast by KET and ultimately broadcast on PBS stations nationwide, drawing rave reviews and earning two regional Emmys in the process.
McCorvey, who now serves as the director of the UK Opera Theatre, credits the KET production — and the reach of public television — for its role in helping bring nationwide attention to the UK Opera program and its performers.
“For many artists, exposure is their passport,” McCorvey said. “And that’s the beauty of KET, because we’re now shown in markets all over the country, which has proven to be a tremendous boon for both the UK Opera program and our students. I receive so many letters and emails from people all across the country saying they’ve enjoyed watching It’s a Grand Night.”
McCorvey and his wife, Alicia, also a professional singer, both say public television was formative to their childhoods. Growing up in an opera and theater-loving family in Brooklyn, Alicia watched musical performances on the local public television channel, which she says validated her desire to pursue a career in the arts.
For Everett, who grew up in Montgomery, Ala., during the height of the Civil Rights movement, public television likewise offered validation, if of a different sort.
He recalled one summer when local officials, on order to desegregate public facilities, opted to pave over and close his neighborhood’s pool rather than open it to Blacks. At that time on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, however, he watched as Fred Rogers shared his plastic wading pool with Officer Clemmons, a Black character, together cooling their bare feet in the water.
“It was two people sharing a kiddie pool, and it wasn’t a big deal,” Everett said. “It was a different narrative than the one I was seeing in Montgomery, one that was welcoming and open. It was powerful, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The McCorveys, who met in New York on the cast of the musical Porgy and Bess, moved to Lexington in 1991. As their family grew to include three children, they said they were happy to have KET to share with their kids, who adored watching Sesame Street, Arthur and Barney & Friends.
“KET has been in our home ever since we arrived here,” Alicia said. “We feel our children learned a lot from watching its programs, which offer a kindness and an educational experience that you don’t find in the same way on commercial television.”
They’ve likewise lent their singing talents to numerous KET pledge drives and appeared on several KET productions, including a 2001 performance of It’s a Grand Night For Singing! on the program In Performance at the Governor’s Mansion and on American Spiritual Ensemble, a series Everett helped create to celebrate the spiritual song as an art form.
The McCorveys said they’re happy to support KET however they can because they appreciate the variety of arts programming that KET routinely airs, programs such as Live From Lincoln Center, Great Performances and Kentucky Life, which frequently spotlights local artists.
“KET introduces the arts to so many people in so many different ways,” Everett said. “It’s great because it opens up a world of possibilities. And people don’t have to leave the comfort of their living room — although, after the year we’ve had, they’re probably ready.”