The Rhythm and Blues song "Always and Forever" was one of the first solos Rise Jones ever performed.
Like many people, she grew up singing with the radio and she also performed in small-scale theater. But when a friend asked Jones to sing at her wedding, it opened new doors for a woman who never considered making music a major complement to her career.
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In the early '90s, Jones was working toward her Ph.D. in public policy analysis at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She started taking voice lessons after her friend's wedding and used singing as an outlet from her exhausting research.
Lessons by a classically trained opera singer through the DePaul University School of Music's community division pushed Jones in a new direction.
"I loved it because it opened up a new world of possibilities for me and singing," Jones said.
Today, Jones owns her own business where she uses her public policy training to conduct public health and education evaluations.
And like it did during grad school, the arts have lived side-by-side with public policy in her world. She co-founded Hamilton Wings with her mother, Ann Jones, in 1995 to give low-income youth the opportunity to participate in the arts.
Jones said the nonprofit was intended as a living memorial to her father, who had recently died.
"We thought, 'How can we bring the arts to young people, especially in different and innovative ways?'" Jones said.
Hamilton Wings runs various programs, giving kids the chance to take part in the creation and composition of art. Students in the SCORE (Students Creating Opera to Reinforce Education) program, for example, write and choreograph the music, lyrics and dances for an entire opera in nine months.
The kids work with a core group of artists to do it, but Jones said they are responsible for all the decisions that make the opera a reality -- a feat most adults can't even claim as their own.
And after doing that, Jones said the students can carry leadership and confidence skills beyond the stage.
"They should never feel like there's anything in life they can't do," Jones said.
In addition to bringing young people to the arts, Jones has also continued to sing. For 11 years she held an annual recital called Giving Thanks. After both of her parents died in a two-year span, Jones was overwhelmed with the kindness and support people showed. The concerts were a way for her to give back.
This month, she will enter into a new round of solo performances. Jones received grant funding from the Elgin Cultural Arts showcase for a three-part concert series called Legacies in Song.
The series is the result of plenty of research from Jones' side and a love of sharing information.
"With these songs, it's such an honor to be able to present them," Jones said. "Sometimes it can get rather weighty when you think of the significance of these songs and what they really mean."
"Spirituals and the Disinherited" was held Feb. 13 as a program about the role of spirituals in the life of enslaved people, with Margaret Brady as accompanist.
The second concert, "Freedom Songs," will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, at Gail Borden Public Library. Jones said it will be a mix of narrative and song in an interactive program about the Underground Railroad, with Murna Hansemann on piano.
And the third, set for 7 p.m. March 10 at the Gail Borden library, is called "Evening with Ethel Waters," where Jones will sing songs and narrate the performer's life using information from Waters' two autobiographies.
In these performances, Jones will look out into the audience as a different woman from the one who signed up for voice lessons years ago -- all thanks to that fateful performance when she first sang as a favor to a friend.