Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy

On March 4, Carnegie Hall launches Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, a festival saluting the enduring vitality, influence, and creativity of African American culture, curated by renowned soprano Jessye Norman. Running through March 23 with more than 20 events at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, and venues throughout New York City, Honor! celebrates African American music and its influence worldwide, with programs paying tribute to pioneering artists including Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and more in programs that showcase performances by leading artists of today representing classical, gospel, the Spiritual, blues, jazz, and popular music. Complete festival information is available at

The Honor! festival is bookended by two special programs at Carnegie Hall. On March 4, "Honor: Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Soul and Beyond" features today's musical innovators in tribute to great popular music artists of the past. Musical Director Ray Chew joins Geri Allen, Terence Blanchard, Ron Carter, James Carter (jazz); James "Blood" Ulmer, Toshi Reagon (blues); Anthony Hamilton, Freddie Jackson, Leela James, Kem, Ryan Shaw (R&B, soul); Vernon Reid (rock); Doug E. Fresh and MC Lyte (hip-hop). The festival concludes with "Honor: The Voice" on March 23, a program bringing together acclaimed African American classical singers to pay tribute to icons who paved the way for succeeding generations. Featured singers include Harolyn Blackwell, Gregg Baker, Angela M. Brown, Nicole Cabell, Kevin Maynor, and Eric Owens.

Jessye Norman appears herself during the festival, performing "Sacred Ellington" at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on March 7-a program that features excerpts from Duke Ellington's Three Sacred Concerts. Miss Norman also performs the world premiere of composer Laura Karpman's Ask Your Mama! on March 16 at Carnegie Hall along with hip-hop group The Roots, vocalists de'Adre Aziza and Tracie Luck, and conductor George Manahan leading the Orchestra of St. Luke's in a multimedia concert presentation based on the epic 1961 poem cycle by Langston Hughes and directed by Annie Dorsen (Passing Strange).

The Apollo Theater hosts a weekend devoted to the Spiritual and gospel music beginning on March 21 with a panel discussion exploring the historical, political, and musical issues of this music. Participants include Derrick Bell, Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Portia Maultsby, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Chapman Roberts, and Olly Wilson. On March 22, a concert at the Apollo traces the development of the Spiritual from its African roots with vocalists Shari Addison, Shirley Caesar, Donnie McClurkin, Smokie Norful, and Richard Smallwood; the Abyssinian Baptist Church Cathedral Choir, Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir, Sweet Honey In The Rock, and Vy Higginsen's Gospel for Teens.

Three panel discussions on March 8 at Zankel Hall - all featuring performances - focus on various aspects of the African American cultural experience, including insights from such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Gwen Ifill, Judith Jamison, Tania Leon, Arthur Mitchell, Toni Morrison, George Shirley, Anna Deavere Smith, and Cornel West; performances at these panels will be given by baritone Robert Sims, the Dance Theatre of Harlem School and Ensemble, and Imani Winds, which performs a new work from African American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, Five Chairs and One Table, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and featuring musical portraits of Jessye Norman, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, and the daughters of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha.

Other festival highlights include an interview with Arthur Mitchell, founding Artistic Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as well as a panel discussion on this iconic institution at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (March 12); a Carnegie Hall concert by The Philadelphia Orchestra and Chief Conductor Charles Dutoit featuring bass-baritone Eric Owens performing Mahler in tribute to the great soprano Marian Anderson as well as a performance of African American composer George Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning work Lilacs with tenor Russell Thomas (March 17); and an evening with jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater in Zankel Hall (March 18).

Education and community programs presented by Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute are an integral part of Honor! with free Neighborhood Concerts in venues throughout the city. A free interactive Carnegie Hall Community Sing at the Apollo Theater Soundstage invites vocalists of all ages and levels to make music together with host Vy Higginsen and the Gospel for Teens Choir. Carnegie Hall's National High School Choral Festival is presented this season as part of Honor! with four high school choirs chosen from around the country performing Sir Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time on March 20. Also in support of Honor!, The Weill Music Institute's Perelman American Roots program for middle school students offers a specially created curriculum drawing connections between African American music and US history.

Carnegie Hall's Rose Museum participates in Honor! with a special exhibit entitled "The African American Experience at Carnegie Hall." Through items on display from the Carnegie Hall Archives, the New York Library for the Performing Arts, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Columbia University, and Howard University, visitors can explore the fascinating history of African American artists and political and social figures who have appeared at Carnegie Hall throughout its 118-year history.

Carnegie Hall has launched as the online companion to the festival. The site offers the most up-to-date information about Honor! events; pays tribute to the hundreds of legendary African American performers who have appeared at Carnegie Hall; and provides historical context to the festival via an interactive timeline and history of African American music.

Carnegie Hall has a long, storied history of featuring the greatest African American artists on its stages, from classical trailblazers to jazz pioneers to R&B and popular music icons. Maintaining an open-door policy since its inception-soprano Sissieretta Jones performed in June 1892, one year after the hall opened-Carnegie Hall has been the site for groundbreaking concerts by numerous African American musicians. These history-making events include Marian Anderson's 1928 debut-more than ten years before being notoriously barred from singing at Washington D.C.'s Constitution Hall-as well as producer John Hammond's famous 1938 "From Spirituals to Swing" program, a veritable cornucopia of African American styles and performers, and the Kool Jazz Festival's (now JVC Jazz Festival) "Young Lions" debuts of Wynton Marsalis and Bobby McFerrin in 1982. The very evolution of jazz itself can be traced through Carnegie Hall programs-from James Reese Europe and his Clef Club Orchestra (1912) to W.C. Handy and Fats Waller ('28) to Benny Goodman's integrated orchestra ('38) on through Duke Ellington's Black, Brown & Beige premiere ('43), Miles Davis's Carnegie Hall debut in the year of the "Birth of the Cool" ('49), and John Coltrane jamming with Thelonious Monk ('57). Today's popular music stars continue to build upon this historic legacy, with performances in the past decade by Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige, and Mos Def, among many others.

Major funding for Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy has been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Alice Tully Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation's New York City Cultural Innovation Fund, and the A. L. and Jennie L. Luiria Foundation.

write your comments about the article :: 2009 Jazz News :: home page