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June is Black Music Month

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Tamara Shiloh

From African slaves who cultivated their own musical styles, to fiddlers who provided dance music for the Southern white gentry, to the lyrical cries of Black street vendors in 18th-century Philadelphia, to Motown, Black music boasts a storied history.

In 1979, Pres. Jimmy Carter designated June as African American Music Appreciation Month to focus on this rich history and continuing legacy of African-American musicians, singers, and composers whose creative sounds tell the stories of the hardships and triumphs Black people in America experience.

More than 30 years later, Pres. Barack Obama pronounced June as Black Music Month. In his 2016 proclamation, Obama noted that African-American music and musicians have helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.”

Black music has profoundly influenced the lives of all Americans. It is the sound that continues to bring all cultures together. While there is much focus on the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and rap, few know that African Americans have also successfully performed classical and concert music.

Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges, considered the first classical composer of African origins, was known as Le Mozart Noir (the Black Mozart). Born in 1745, his career included string quartets, symphonies and concertos. He was a champion fencer, classical composer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of France’s leading symphony orchestra: Le Concert des Amateurs.

Mozart, at that time, was struggling for professional recognition, resenting Saint-Georges’ success. Reportedly, Mozart not only used one of Saint-Georges’ pieces in his Sinfonia Concertante, but also used his fury to create the evil Black character, Monostatos, in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

According to the Independent, “Saint-Georges was exotic, brilliant, established … close to the Queen … Mozart was not. He led one of the best orchestras in Europe while Mozart’s symphonies received inferior performances … Mozart had every reason to be jealous.”

George Bridgetower (born 1778), an Afro-European virtuoso violinist and composer, is described in the film Immortal Beloved as “the famous virtuoso from Africa.”

In the film, Bridgetower performs Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 (the “Kreutzer” Sonata), a piece Beethoven formally dedicated to him. The scene recounts their real-life falling-out, which culminated in Beethoven withdrawing his dedication over an off-color remark Bridgetower made about a woman Beethoven knew. Outraged, Beethoven opted instead to name his sonata after French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer.

Florence Price, born in Arkansas in 1887, was the first African-American woman to, in 1933, have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra. A music critic from the Chicago Daily News heard her work performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and declared it “a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion

While Black musicians continue to create and influence, their work remains steeped in the long tradition of African-American music.

Art

Maestro Michael Morgan Conducts San Francisco Symphony

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Maestro Michael Morgan

Maestro Michael Morgan, music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, will conduct the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, Friday, July 23, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.

The program will include the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s opera “La gazza ladra,” along with a playful Pas de Six from “William Tell.” Louise Farrenc’s revelatory Symphony No. 3 from 1847 takes center stage, while the program concludes with James P. Johnson’s Roaring 20s hit, “Charleston.”

“I am thrilled to be helping the San Francisco Symphony share all the wonderful things they do with a wider and more diverse audience’, said Morgan.

Morgan’s ties to the San Francisco Symphony stretch back to 1994, when he first led Concerts for Kids performances.

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Art

BIPOC Writers to Showcase Live Readings of New Anthology ‘Essential Truths’

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

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Essential Truths the Bay Area In Color/WriteNow! SF

Oakland Asian Cultural Center in partnership with Write Now! SF Bay will host an East Bay Showcase of its latest anthology “Essential Truths on Thursday, July 22. 

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

Among those performing and reading are: Avotcja, Clara Hsu, Danny Ryu, Darzelle Oliveros, Dianne Leo-Omine, Elmaz Abinader, Kelechi Ubozoh, Karen Seneferu, Kimi Sugioka, Sandra Bass, Shirley Huey, Shizue Seigal, Sridevi Ramanathan, Susana Praver-Pérez, Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia), Tony Aldorondo, Tureeda Mikell, and Wanda Sabir. 

To register for this event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., visit https://oacc.cc/event/essential-truths-east-bay/. A complete list of Oakland Asian Cultural Center readers’ affiliations can be found here: OACC READERS

Write Now! SF Bay, an organization that has helped 350 writers and artists create with their free and low-cost programs and provided a safe community where BIPOC feel free to express themselves, has published its fourth anthology.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color,” is its fourth anthology. The collection of 130 Bay Area BIPOC’s poems, musings, and art was edited by Siegal, the founder/director of Write Now! SF Bay.

“Our work is not always polished, but it arises from the lived experience of grappling with real issues of the day,” Siegal said. “We may write in the vernacular or English may be our second or third language. 

“If our rhythms are unfamiliar, ask yourself why—is our work inflected by other tongues and vernaculars, rusty from disuse, scattered by stress or trauma, struggling out silence, or hastily scribbled on borrowed time? 

“Old ways are dissolving, and change is in the air. BIPOC arts and activism have been here all along. Now we are stepping into the light,” Siegal said.

The contributors are Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ communities along with a few white allies who run the gamut from poet laureates to high school students to college professors and beyond. 

Since 2015, Write Now! SF Bay has been led by and for BIPOC Bay Area writers and builds multicultural solidarity around their unique identities as people of color and reclaim their culture and history, personal and community well-being as well as civil liberties and social justice.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color” is published is available for purchase at $17.95 by visiting https://www.writenowsf.com/essential-truths

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Activism

Haitian American Artist Brings His Vision, Gift to State’s COVID Campaign

The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.  

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Serge Gay Jr. at Art Attack mimicking a playboy bunny in one of his paintings. Photo by James Chiang.

California’s “Your Actions Save Lives” art campaign recently unveiled two “Safety First” murals in San Francisco. The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.
One is located in the Castro and the other in the Tenderloin, — two well-known districts steeped in the Golden Gate City’s famous history of Leftist political organizing and the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people.
The Tenderloin mural, which he dedicates to the city’s transgender community, was inspired by the idea of, “breaking free because during the pandemic, we were all just home and kind of stuck there,” said Gay.  His second artwork is located at 2390 Market St. in the Castro.
The state says the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign equips Californians with information about what they can do to help stem the spread of COVID-19.  To get the word out, it partnered with The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation and 20 local artists across the state to reach communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gay, he celebrates the Tenderloin for its inclusion of Black and Brown people. The message behind the mural places an emphasis on freedom of movement following the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to get vaccinated, says the artist whose collaboration with film director Matt Stawski clinched him a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Video.”
“I wanted to really kind of also showcase our trends visibility,” said Gay.
Gay pays homage to his Haitian roots through his artwork which celebrates various Black communities in the Bay Area — African Americans as well as African and Caribbean immigrants, he explains.

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