Commemorating through Music: Prague, November 14

On November 14, Vaclav Havel hosted a concert in a 13th century church in Prague to kick off the 20th anniversary commemorations of the Czechoslovakian “Velvet Revolution.” 

Celebrities in attendance included Adam Michnik from Poland, who gave a rousing speech, referring to Havel as the region’s Moses. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, born in Prague, also was in attendance.

Havel chose the performers for the star-studded performance. The singers Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and Renee Fleming performed pieces that had particular relevance for the occasion, including protest songs of the 1960s. One of the evening’s pinnacle moments was Joan Baez’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” with one verse in Czech. The audience sang along, and close-ups of the audience members revealed a host of teary eyes—including those of Havel. Later, a video was projected, featuring the 1989 Czech dissident crowds in Wenceslas Square singing “We Shall Overcome” and flashing peace signs to the police.

In fact, the U.S. Civil Rights movement was prominent as inspiration and source of the spirit of resistance that the evening recalled.  A clear theme of the evening was the importance of the arts for social change, exemplified by Vaclav Havel, a novelist who rose to the position of president of the democratizing Czech Republic.

Congratulatory videos came in from the Dalai Lama, Angel Merkel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama, Bono, Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger, and others. Obama made a point of congratulating both the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic in his speech. Gorbachev praised the venue because he reported that he also loves music.  

Earlier in the day, Havel had harsh words for Russia, however, during a debate with students, charging the country with continuing controls on its society.  

Havel ended the concert with a pithy list of the societies still suffering from oppressive regimes, including Darfur, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Tibet, and others.

US singers Joan Baez, pictured in May 2009, Lou Reed and Suzanne Vega performed Saturday at a concert in Prague paying homage to former Czech president Vaclav Havel, a hero of the Velvet Revolution 20 years ago.

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4 Responses to “Commemorating through Music: Prague, November 14”

  1. Martha Forsyth Says:

    Lovely to hear Joan’s voice among the voices of the other singers – each with a special style, and also able to sing all together.

  2. Susan C. Pearce Says:

    Yes, it was, and amazing how well they sang together–opera, rock, folk….

  3. I love Rennée Flemming, but each of performers was excellent there

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