Nashville concert to benefit Mayflower choir students

By Tammy Keith Published June 8, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Bennie Dunavan, right, taught school for 25 years at a school in Monticello, and one of her former students, who performs in Nashville, got the ball rolling on a fundraiser for Mayflower choir students whose homes were destroyed in the April 27 tornado. Dunavan plays while students Autumn Fuller, from left, Zoey Hunt, Casey Murphy and Tyler Slye sing.

MAYFLOWER — Mayflower choir director Bennie Dunavan’s influence has reached Nashville, Tennessee, where a former student is honoring her by holding a concert to benefit choir students affected by the April 27 Faulkner County tornado.

Dunavan said she taught at Drew Central High School in Monticello for 25 years before coming to Mayflower five years ago.

One of her former students is Ward Davis, who performs in Nashville. He has organized Music for Mayflower, which will be performed Wednesday in Nashville. It will be streamed live at 7:30 p.m. on for $10. All the proceeds will go to the six students in the Mayflower choir who lost their homes, Dunavan said.

“He was playing a gig in Kentucky, and he put out a bucket and raised about $300 [for Mayflower students]. He said, ‘I feel like I need to do more,’” Dunavan said.

In addition to Davis, she said performers will include Tracy Lawrence and Wayland Holyfield, both of Arkansas. Holyfield wrote “Arkansas You Run Deep in Me.”

“When the tornado hit Mayflower, I started out by putting on Facebook specific needs,” Dunavan said. “One of my young ladies (a former Monticello student), a nursing professor, said it’s time for the old babies to step up to help the new babies.” She said the woman, Kim Ewell Ray, teaches at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Dunavan, who teaches grades five through 12, calls her Mayflower students her “choir babies.”

Dunavan said her former students have sent gift cards, notes and donations for her six choir students who lost their homes.

One of those is Davion Bivens, 17, who graduated in May.

“It was devastating,” Bivens said.

He said that when the tornado hit, he was at his grandparents’ home next door with his mother, Lashonda Brown, and his brother, Darius Brown.

Bivens said it was “loud, dusty, windy. I tried not to open my eyes.”

When he did, the home his mother rented and all their belongings were gone.

“I didn’t lose anything important to me. I’m just glad my family was alive,” he said.

Brown said her family went to her parents’ two-story home next door about two minutes before the tornado hit.

“We were downstairs. All of us began to pray. That was the only part of the house left standing after the storm,” Brown said.

“We lost everything,” she said. “My car, everything. I was renting, so I did not have a lick of insurance. Right now, we’re living in an apartment.”

Brown, a single mother, said she just started a new job but that the money from the fundraisers is much appreciated.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “People have been great, donating us furniture and all kinds of stuff. If I get more money, I’d get my kids more clothes and stuff and make sure my rent’s paid.”

To date, about $5,000 has been raised, Dunavan said. Other high school choirs in the state have contributed, too, she said.

Dunavan said the response from her former students has been heartwarming.

“The comments they’ve made, along with gift cards and money, have been very humbling and have reminded me that teaching is a lifetime job; it’s not an 8-3 job.

“I really appreciate the young adults that they’ve grown to be,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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