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Roxbury filmmaker will send next project to space

Topper Carew planning project that will send song around earth

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Roxbury filmmaker will send next project to space
Topper Carew COURTESY PHOTO

Roxbury native Topper Carew traces his love for music back to a radio console in his grandmother’s Windsor Street home, on which he listened to a blues program.

That love of music stayed with him through his college years at Howard University, where he hosted a blues concert, and after graduation, when he played in a blues band with legends including Sleepy John Estes.

His career took him through different areas of creative endeavor — as a documentary filmmaker, a producer and program manager at WGBH, a producer of Hollywood films, including “D.C. Cab,” and a co-producer of the television show “Martin.”

While he’s no longer playing in a band, Carew’s next endeavor will involve music and it will go global.

Working with Nanoracks, a company that has sent 1,300 payloads into earth’s orbit, and the space education firm DreamUp, Carew is planning to send a recording of children singing the gospel standard “This Little Light of Mine” to the International Space Station (ISS), then, as it orbits around the globe, beam the song into classrooms and students’ homes around the world.

Carew said he decided on the project as a way to bring light to dark times.

“I felt like if I could do something that suggests the possibility of love, peace and hope in the world, I should do it,” he told the Banner.

Carew’s payload, due to launch in October, will be nested inside a container on the ISS. One component will be a screen on which images of children singing the song will be displayed constantly. The other main component will be a recording device that will transmit the image to the space station, which will then stream it back to earth. Carew has set up a website through which students and teachers will be able to connect with the image being beamed to earth from the ISS and track the location of the space station.

“You’ll be able to track when the ISS is coming over Roxbury,” Carew said. “You’ll be able to see a film that’s beaming from the payload, which is children singing ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ and video animations and artwork from children around the world.”

Carew will be able to update the videos in the projection, including videos from children singing the song around the world.

Carew said he sees music as a way to connect children from different parts of the globe.

“Music is like oxygen,” he said. “It becomes a great instructional tool for children especially. It’s a song that will be easy for the children who don’t know it to follow.”

For Carew, who has produced more than 200 concerts during his career, the satellite project could represent one of the largest-ever audiences he has reached. It has a lot of competition in his extensive oeuvre of films, documentaries and television shows, but this project, he says, is special.

“I’m distributing a film without having to go through a major distributor, without having to go through a major firm controlled by Wall Street,” he said. “This project has so many elements of what I want to do and who I am embedded in it.”

Carew grew up in Roxbury and graduated from Boston Tech (now the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science). He credits former School Committee member John O’Bryant, then a guidance counselor, with helping him get into Howard University. While Carew wasn’t much interested in academics, he said, O’Bryant pushed him.

“He told me, ‘If you work in your senior year, I will get you into the Black Harvard University.’”

Carew later graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, where he also earned a master’s degree in environmental design. After his stint at WGBH, where he produced the local and national editions of “Say Brother,” Carew founded his own production company, producing content for PBS, HBO, Showtime, the Nickelodeon Channel and the Disney Channel.

Broadcasting from space, however, is a new frontier.

“When I tell my family and peers what I’m doing, they say, ‘What? How’d you do that?’ and I say, ‘Because I thought I could.’”