By Shell Amega
African Americans for Los Angeles Opera (AALAO) Annual Membership Father’s Day Recital was held on June 15. It featured baritone Babatunde Akinboboye, who was accompanied on piano by Catherine Miller. Ben and Delores Kerr welcomed the guests with a comfortable humor and grace that reflected the more than 15 years they have been hosting opera musical events at their Hancock Park home.
Into this warm atmosphere stepped Nigerian American Akinboboye, who filled the air with arias, art songs and spirituals. He was delightfully expressive as his musical theater talents came through most notably during the classic “Largo al factotum” from Barbiere di Siviglia, which he enlivened with a variety of voices and characters.
Ben and Delores looked on with pride. “Southern hospitality is part of our family tradition, including encouraging a feeling of inclusiveness,” noted Delores. “We also do this to pass on the legacy of African Americans in Opera and to help promote new talent. It’s something that’s really needed.”
She recalled that during the organization’s early years, AALAO performances were hosted by Alice Coulombe, co-founder of Los Angeles Opera, Opera League of Los Angeles and AALAO, as well as Ann Mosser and Anne Combs. The Kerrs have been members of LA Opera and the Music Center since the 70’s and were glad to continue Alice’s tradition when they were asked to begin hosting AALAO events.
They recounted one event that had a bit of unexpected drama when the singer was late in arriving. Soprano Shana Blake Hill had trouble reaching their home due to LA Marathon street closures. Ben took side streets in his car to reach her. The performer was easy to spot. She was walking down Wilshire Boulevard with loud yellow and green flowing capes blowing in the wind.
The Kerrs developed an interest in opera when they both attended campus cultural events at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). It was a vibrant time. Major artists visited the campus including Leontyne Price and William Warfield. Other visiting performers included blues singers and jazz artists like Duke Ellington.
It was on campus where their love story began. Ben campaigned for Delores, and she won the campus queen title in the Miss Tuskegee Pageant. Delores recalls his proposal, “Ben gave me a lovely diamond ring on my birthday. I was puzzled because my birthstone is a diamond, so I asked if this was a proposal or a birthday gift. He said, ‘Take it for whatever you want it to be,’ so I chose engagement!” They recently celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary.
In February they were chosen as American Apparel Sweethearts and were featured as models in an advertising campaign. Delores is a former fashion model, nurse and LAUSD educator who founded Mentors for Youth and Adults Worldwide. She loves gardening and sings at McCarty Memorial Church. She has sung with the John Herod Singers, the Alexander Hamilton singers, and background for Buddy Collette and Shelley Mann. Ben was an electrical design engineer who worked for over 38 years designing commercial and military aircraft for Douglas. He enjoys working puzzles, designing and fabricating stain glass windows and amateur radio in his spare time.
For more information regarding AALAO events please contact Jacque Lynn Wallace (424) 245-4659.