Both bands are all-male, sing without any musical instruments and have followers around the world. One group is Jewish and the other African American.
When the Maccabeats and Naturally 7 take the stage together in Baltimore January 15 to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., they hope once again to send a message of “friendship, harmony and unity” using only their voices in a cappella style.
The Maccabeats started singing together at Yeshiva University, a Jewish school in New York City. The 14–member band hit it big in 2010 with a video, “Candlelight,” which has 12 million YouTube views.
Naturally 7 got its start 10 years earlier in New York when brothers Roger and Warren Thomas recruited five other singers. The band has toured and performed around the world with artists as diverse as Quincy Jones, Michael Bublé and Ludacris.
The two a cappella groups joined their talents for the first time when they recorded and released in 2016 a video of their version of the song “Shed a Little Light” at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The idea to collaborate came from Maccabeats member and music director Julian Horowitz, who said he’s been a fan of Naturally 7 since he was a teenager. “They’re pretty much as good as it gets in our business,” Horowitz said.
Although the Maccabeats had found success with songs and videos marking Jewish holidays, they wanted to highlight an American holiday that was important to them. Horowitz remembers studying the civil rights era as part of a Jewish-American history class as an adolescent and seeing a famous photograph of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching side by side with King.
“There were many Jews in the early civil rights movement,” Horowitz said. “King is very important to us.”
In 2015, when the Maccabeats were planning a video tribute for King’s birthday, Horowitz suggested collaborating with Naturally 7 to sing James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light,” first recorded in 1991. “To our surprise, they said yes,” Horowitz said.
The video of the joint performance picked up a half million views on YouTube and another 3 million when Taylor posted it on his Facebook page.
Both groups are looking forward to reuniting and performing for King’s birthday this year.
“The world needs more voices like Dr. King’s — voices of moderation for both coming together and standing up for your principles,” Horowitz said.