Before a crowd of hundreds and lit by a single spotlight, Michael Thompson sang with gusto and heart the song that his vocal student, Jonah Borth, was to have sung Saturday, Feb. 1, at Hope Church.
Thompson sang “Sante Fe” for those gathered for the annual “Dessert Cabaret” event, presented by the Grand Cities Children’s Choir at the Grand Cities Mall.
A minute-long video of Jonah practicing the song -- with his grandmother at the piano -- was shown, and Thompson finished it.
Borth, 15, a GCCC member for more than six years, died Sunday, Jan. 26, in Northwood, N.D.
The song “Sante Fe,” from the Broadway show “Newsies, The Musical,” is a difficult piece that Jonah had worked hard to master, Thompson said.
“I wanted to do this for Jonah because I know he would have done it, and I know he would have nailed it, and I wanted to do that for him,” Thompson said after the performance, which ended with a standing ovation by the audience.
The “Dessert Cabaret” event was comprised of a series of performances, mostly solos and duets, by choir members who are in grades seven through nine. Jonah was a freshman at Red River High School.
Event proceeds, which were to help fund the choir’s trip to New York City later this month, will be given instead to the family of Borth to help cover his funeral expenses, said Melanie Popejoy, GCCC director.
After welcoming the audience gathered for the concert, Popejoy said, “We are missing a voice, and that voice is Jonah Borth.”
Members of Borth’s family “are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from this community,” she said.
The event was an occasion to “show our love for the singers on the stage but also for the Borth and Blackberg families, who are in attendance tonight,” Popejoy told the audience.
Before the event, choir members and friends praised Jonah’s qualities, including his compassion and steadfast friendship.
Alexis Clausen, a sophomore at Grand Forks Central High School, said she has known Jonah since elementary school.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Clausen said. “He had a wonderful laugh. When he laughed, he would make everything OK.”
“His voice was amazing,” she said. “And he really liked puns; he’d tell them nonstop.”
Jonah “was always ready to have fun and mess around” during breaks in practice sessions, she recalled. “He was a great friend and a great person.”
Jebb Gerszewski, a freshman at Larimore (N.D.) High School said, “He was a great guy and an even better friend. He always stood up for his friends.”
Brandon Leao, a UND freshman whose younger brother, Conner, was Jonah’s best friend, said that “no matter what kind of day he was having, he would listen to people -- and not just to compare someone else’s day to his.”
“He cared beyond just being selfless,” Leao said. “He cared that everyone around him knew that he cared about them. I don’t think a day went by that he didn’t help people.”