Last year’s Concert for Peace, a fund-raiser for highly at-risk youths held at St. Sabina Church on the South Side, was such a rousing success that it’s returning for a second year on June 10. So, too, is the concert’s main draw: internationally renowned cellist and self-admitted Chicago booster Yo-Yo Ma.

“That day, for me, was one of the most memorable days in my 41 years here,” says the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the longtime pastor of St. Sabina, 1210 W. 78th Place, and one of Chicago’s most prominent anti-violence advocates, of last year’s 90-minute concert that drew more than 1,000 people and raised $70,000. The concert was presented by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute, in partnership with St. Sabina. “And I say that because what Yo-Yo was able to do — because of who he is — was gather people from 150 different zip codes. Where does that happen anywhere? It doesn’t. Particularly in this very divided society that we live in today, to have all those people coming together not downtown at Grant Park, but at 78th and Racine, is miraculous. It makes the whole walking on water thing kind of secondary.”

This year’s concert, part of the Negaunee Music Institute’s Initiative for a More Peaceful Chicago, will feature Ma, the CSO’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, performing classical and jazz works (repertoire includes Dvorak, Joplin, Ellington and others) with musicians from the CSO, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Children’s Choir and members of the St. Sabina church band. Soprano Takesha Kizart and mezzo-soprano Sarah Ponder also will lend their talents.

“I love the city,” Ma told Crain’s Chicago Business in 2017. “There’s a lot of depth, a lot of pride in the way the city operates, and the institutions here are fabulous. I am particularly interested in this third of the country because I think that third has a deep soul, and the soul of the country in many ways stems from what happens here.”

Most notably, this year’s program will highlight original compositions based on the lives of Chicago children who were killed in street violence. Through St. Sabina’s support and advocacy organization Purpose Over Pain, and with financial and artistic backing from several sources (among them Civic Orchestra alum and composer Josh Fink), mothers of violence victims from all over the city worked with musicians to compose songs about their children. Ma was part of that process, leading a songwriting workshop at St. Sabina in mid-March.

“It is so powerful,” Pfleger says of the songwriting project. “We had about 25 of them that were featured a few months ago [at St. Sabina]. People at church were crying and celebrating it.”

In the face of so much hopelessness, despair and discouragement — that which he sees personally and in society at large — Pfleger regards music as a powerful healing force. Thanks to Ma’s immense magnetism, that healing isn’t limited to just the St. Sabina community.

“If you asked this to happen, it wouldn’t happen,” Pfleger says of the Concert for Peace. “But I think, unconsciously, barriers and walls fall and people are walking out and they’re changed, and they don’t even know how. There’s nothing like an experience that can change you.”

Note: Tickets, $25 per person, may be purchased at or call (312) 294-3000. A service fee of $5 per ticket applies. All donations and net ticket proceeds will benefit St. Sabina’s Strong Futures program.

Mike Thomas, a Chicago-based writer, is the author of the books You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman and Second City Unscripted.

TOP: Yo-Yo Ma (left) and the Rev. Michael Pfleger talk offstage before the first Concert for Peace last year. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017