By Samantha Holm | Arts & Culture Editor
In an exciting collaboration between Whitworth University and the Spokane Symphony, award-winning Broadway actor Leslie Odom Jr. performed in the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Friday, Oct. 15 for the President’s Leadership Forum. Together, Odom and the symphony performed songs from the ground-breaking musical “Hamilton”, as well as some of Odom’s own original pieces.
Odom made his musical debut in 1996 as Paul, a cop and others in “Rent”. However, he is best known for portraying Aaron Burr in “Hamilton”. In 2016, he received a Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway production. Along with his illustrious acting career, Odom is also a solo-recording artist and released his first album, “Mr.”, in 2019.
The President’s Leadership Forum serves the Inland Northwest by bringing in important national leaders to speak on various contemporary issues. Whitworth’s website for the President’s Leadership Forum shows that past forum guests have been politicians, government leaders, journalists, authors and army officials. Amongst these visitors, musician and actor Odom is an outlier.
According to Maxine Lammers, liaison between Whitworth University and sponsors of the President’s Leadership Forum, the arts provide valuable insight into contemporary issues as well. “Music and the arts, including various genres, challenge us to consider race, gender, political structures, immigration, redemption and so much more,” she said.
Lammers also referenced Odom’s role in “Hamilton” as one that provokes “us to consider our view of the world and our place in it.”
Aside from the powerful themes present in “Hamilton”, Odom himself is a major source of inspiration for many, including Whitworth first-year and Spokane native Quinn Gamon.
Gamon attended the concert with his family. “It was really awesome to be able to sit in a space and hear not only the Spokane Symphony play amazingly, but to also hear one of my idols perform in front of me in my hometown,” he said.
Once the concert concluded, Gamon made a heartfelt appeal to his mother to wait outside the Fox for a chance to meet Odom. After an hour of waiting, Odom exited the theater and made Gamon’s dreams come true.
Although Gamon “genuinely could not form words,” he made a point to thank Odom for inspiring his musical career. “[I did tell him] ‘I really appreciate your music. You helped me get into theater and realize who I am as a musician,'” Gamon said. “He said, ‘Keep going, things get better from here.'”
This student’s meaningful experience and Odom’s performance would not have been possible without the generosity of Whitworth University’s sponsors. Lammers said these sponsors include Wells Fargo, Avista, Boeing Employees’ Credit Union (BECU), Greater Spokane Inc., Innovia Foundation, MultiCare, Walker Construction and an alumni couple.
She said Odom’s concert reflects Whitworth University’s willingness to enrich the Spokane community with its partnerships. “[Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance] has not yet sparked future collaboration but I’m certain that it will,” Lammers said. “We have not yet laid plans for 2022, but I think there will be more ‘surprise and delight’ features.”