Eric Essix and Friends to Perform at Hands Up Together 2018

For five generations, the men of James and Barry Taylor’s family have been singing four-part harmony Gospel, and for most of that time, their songs were based exclusively on stories from the Old Testament.  “The New Testament songs didn’t spring up until the 1940s or ‘50s,” said James, whose a cappella group, the Birmingham Sunlights, will perform for CJFS’ annual “Hands Up Together” event on Sunday, April 29 at 2:30 pm. 

The Sunlights’ affinity for songs about Noah, Daniel and company are not the main reason they came to mind for guitarist/producer Eric Essix as he was assembling the event’s lineup. 

“I absolutely love the Sunlights,” Eric said. “Their a cappella tradition goes all the way back to slavery, and they really bring an authentic Alabama flavor to the stage.”

An acclaimed recording artist and Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, Eric programmed the show to be fast-paced and varied. “We’ll be putting our take on music that’s familiar to most people, and each vocal act will just perform a couple of songs,” he said. The roster also includes vocalists Leonard Julien III, Belinda George-Peoples and CeCe Phillips.

The selection of Eric to program, produce and perform in the show was another natural fit. In addition to serving as Artist in Residence at UAB, he is Programming Director for the UAB Alys Stephens Center, where event honoree Karen Piassick serves on the board.

CJFS is honoring Karen and her husband, Joel, to recognize all that they do to enrich life in greater Birmingham – including the leadership and support they have provided for CJFS and many other organizations.

“When Karen and Joel moved to Birmingham, they brought so much vision, wisdom and kindness with them, and our entire community is the better for it,” said Sheryl Kimerling, who, along with husband Jon, is chairing the event.

The event is a major fund-raising vehicle for CJFS’ main focus – supporting independence and enriched quality of life for older adults, regardless of faith or financial ability.

“CJFS provides the expertise, services and guidance that help people stay in their own home, and we think that’s so important,” Joel said. Karen added: “We’re fortunate because we know we’ll have the financial resources to stay in our home. Through CJFS, we can help offer that option to people who don’t have as many resources, because nobody wants to be uprooted.”

Eric, likewise, said he has particular concerns about the welfare of older adults. “Of course, as I myself grow older, I am increasingly aware of the issues that the elderly in both my family and our community face,” he said. “One challenge that has recently become very important to me is making sure these individuals have nutritious hot meals. Those that live alone and cannot cook for themselves or may not even have the means to obtain enough nutritious food are particularly vulnerable.”

CJFS provides nutritional assistance through the Food Closet, in addition to food preparation assistance through the Personal Care program and rides to the grocery store on the purple Buz-A-Bus. Social workers from CJFS also help eligible clients apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), fresh food vouchers and other benefits.

“The respite care, transportation, care management, counseling, personal care and other services CJFS provides for older adults and their families would not be possible without this annual event, and we're so grateful to everyone who supports it,” said CJFS Executive Director Lauren Schwartz. “This year’s event is going to be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about the amazing musicians Eric is bringing to the stage.”

CJFS' 2018 “Hands Up Together” will be at 2:30 pm Sunday, April 29 at the ASFA Day Theatre. The program will be followed by a wine-and-hors-d'oeuvres reception. For tickets, donations or sponsorships, visit  or call 205.879.3438.