CHS Teaching Assistant Shares Family Connection to MLK Jr.

A mother and daughter smile
  • Published February 27, 2024

    A special education teaching assistant is sharing her unique connection to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with students at Centennial High.

    Tracey Pewitt-Perry's grandfather, Dr. Ben Branch, was a professional saxophone player who often traveled with King and was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. They were in town to support the sanitation worker strike and were discussing the program for that evening when King asked Branch to play Precious Lord, Take My Hand and to make it "really special." Seconds later, King was assassinated.

    The following week, Branch and company traveled to Chicago to record an album titled Last Request, which included Precious Lord, Take My Hand and other freedom songs.

    "My students and I were left speechless as we heard Mrs. Pewitt-Perry recount these events," said CHS teacher Dr. Johnathan Vest, "As we listened to the recording, we could hear and feel the weariness and sorrow in that performance." 

    Pewitt-Perry's daughter, Raygn, has been part of her school's choir for two years and is currently being taught by Vest. During the fall concert, one of the choirs performed the song Precious Lord, Take My Hand, which prompted Raygn to talk to Vest about her great-grandfather. After hearing her story, Vest requested Pewitt-Perry to speak to his classes and share with them Branch's recording of the song.

    "I was excited to share with the group of students since my daughter is in the class, and I work with some of them every day," said Pewitt-Perry. "My grandfather's story is important for me to share because not a lot of people know about this part of the history of that day. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, working alongside some of the greats to fight for our rights."

    Throughout his career, Branch performed with legendary musicians such as B.B. King, Etta James and Marvin Gaye. His tenor saxophone has been displayed at the Rock and Soul Museum and is now at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.