Juneteenth Concert Spotlights Albuquerque’s African-American Talent

Building Community and Preserving History, One Celebration at a Time

The African-American community in Albuquerque traces its history back to the founding of the villa in 1706, and people of African or mixed African descent have been present in New Mexico at least as far back as the Spanish explorations of the early 1500s, if not well before. The African roots are deep, and the African-American community in Albuquerque today brims with musical talent.

For vocalist/songwriter/producer Cathryn McGill, Juneteenth, the oldest celebration in the
United States commemorating the end of slavery, presents an excellent opportunity to focus the city’s attention on the contributions of African-Americans to the musical heritage of both the country and the state. As curator of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop’s Juneteenth Freedom Concert: Whole Lot of Rhythm Goin’ Down, A Musical History from Justice to Jazz and Freedom to Funk, she’s conceived an evening that will bring the African-American musical community
together, entertain the community at large, and remind us all of our shared history.

Finding a Way Forward
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed his Union regiment in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the War between the States was over and that the slaves in Texas were free—in fact, had been free since the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier. Those who had endured servitude for those additional 30 months had to acknowledge what had happened and move on.

“It’s important to understand and have a connection to our history,” says McGill, who sees in Juneteenth something of a metaphor for what the country faces today.

“There are so many things happening in the world today that make us concerned about the
future of America, but we have to note it and say that this really did happen, and find a way
forward,” says McGill. “Juneteenth is about finding a way forward.”

The Process
McGill has seized the opportunity offered by the Juneteenth celebration. “We don’t often get the chance to put together musicians like this around this kind of subject matter,” she says. “So for me, art is about more than just the product. It’s about the process.”

That process is about solidifying Albuquerque’s black music community by bringing together emerging artists and seasoned artists. “That’s an important thing, for our young people to stand next to someone who’s been doing it for a long time. We both learn from that,” says McGill.

The Product
The product is just as important as the process, says McGill, because it gives her the
opportunity to introduce the community to some people who are amazingly talented, but
perhaps not well-known or who may not have these kind of performance opportunities very
often. That would certainly include names like vocalists DeWitt Bolden (a former monk with “a divine voice,” says McGill), Lowell Burton (who fronts the group New Methods), Dr. Finnie
Coleman (a UNM professor), Janine Grant, Diana Jackson, singer/songwriter Gabrielle Jackson, Cynthia Renfro, and The Wiz Kidz (Tatay Amos, Malik Barrios Bradford, Chloe Nixon, Zavier Thompson, DeShaun Summers, and Kai Warrior), to name a few.

Then, there are the seasoned artists such as McGill, James Douglas, the effervescent Michael Herndon, Toni Morgan (former backup singer with Gladys Knight), and Sina Soul.

All will be backed by Maurice Dale (keyboards); Reed Easterwood (guitar), an Anglo and an
honorary member of the black music community; Samantha Harris (bass); and Farris Senter (drums). David Cooper, chair of the New Mexico Black History Organizing Committee, will
emcee along with Stephanie Claytor, a reporter at KOB-TV.

Everyone will be under the musical direction of Dr. Stevie Springer, whom McGill describes this way: “Dr. Stevie Springer is, as they say in the ’hood, my ride or die.” Dr. Springer, who has a master’s in vocal performance instruction, has a gift for creating vocal ensembles, says McGill. He’ll be putting ensembles together around a wide variety of material that includes the music of Stevie Wonder, Lena Horne, Fatso Bentley, Charlie Pride, Bob Marley, and George Clinton.

The Wiz Kidz will be doing contemporary R&B as well as historic pieces. The latter include Langston Hughes’ “Democracy” set to music and a McGill-penned tune called “It Ain’t Ovah Yet” that focuses on the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and includes a snippet from Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman.” “We want them to know their history,” says McGill, who notes that the event also provides training for them in a professional performance ethic.

With McGill’s proven talents as a theatrical producer and her determination to educate the
public at large about the black community, it’s a safe bet that the evening will provoke thought, tears, and laughter, with art and entertainment sweetening even the bitterest history.

Juneteenth Freedom Concert:
Whole Lot of Rhythm Goin’ Down

Saturday, June 20, 7:00 p.m.
Albuquerque Museum Amphitheater
Tickets: $16/$14 for members of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop
and the Albuquerque Museum, available here.

© 2015 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.

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