Today is United Nations Day.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 24, the anniversary of the ratification of the Charter of the United Nations, “shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations and to gaining their support for” its work.
The worldwide commemoratory events include a concert to celebrate and reflect on the work of the UN through the universal language of music, featuring Korean Traditional Music Orchestra, UN Messenger of Peace pianist Lang Lang, the Hungarian State Opera with soprano Andrea Rost, and the Harlem Gospel Choir. The concert will be held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall.
The theme of this year’s concert is “Freedom First.” On a recent visit to UN headquarters, freedom was foremost on my mind as I walked through the Ark of Return, a memorial to honor the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
For more information, visit Remember Slavery.
With the ringing of the First Baptist Church Freedom Bell, President Barack Obama opened the doors to a view of African American history and culture through an African American lens.
I was in DC for the grand opening ceremonies.
I did not visit the Museum because I did not want my first visit to be rushed (I have tickets for October and November). So I spent the weekend reveling in the Freedom Sounds Festival. It was comforting to see the ancestors presiding over the community celebration.
By the way, Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue” was remixed into a freedom song, “Fighting for My Rights.”
On my visit to the Museum on October 3rd, my first stop will be the Slavery gallery. If time permits, I’ll check out the Music collection. My plan is to check out one or two galleries on each visit.
Are you ready to visit? Admission is free, but you need a timed pass. You’ll have to plan ahead because Museum tickets are sold out for the rest of the year. Passes for Museum admission between January and March 2017 will be available online starting Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.
For more info, check out Top 10 Things To Know About Visiting the Museum.
This year marks the centennial birthdays of Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk and Mongo Santamaría. The jazz visionaries will be celebrated on Friday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Merriam Theater.
Anne Ewers, President & CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Art, said in a statement:
Philadelphia is a revered jazz city and this presentation gives us a one-of-a-kind opportunity to celebrate the music of four jazz icons in their centennial year. Touting artists from around the world, Jazz 100 will showcase the unifying fibers of this genre.
Over the course of their careers, the jazz legends performed in clubs and venues in Philadelphia.
Dizzy’s Philly roots are deep. Born in South Carolina, his family was part of the Great Migration. For a time, he lived at 637 Pine Street. He was a member of the house band at the Earle Theater. After a tiff with management, Dizzy became a regular at the Downbeat Club, which was located within shouting distance of the Earle Theater.
Dizzy was a founding member of Union Local 274.
An iconic television commercial is one of my earliest memories of “The First Lady of Song.”
One of my most memorable experiences was attending Thelonious Monk’s funeral in 1982 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians paid loving tribute to Monk with version-after-version of “Round Midnight.”
Jazz 100 brings together an all-star ensemble of musicians, including Lizz Wright (vocals), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone, vocals) and Chris Potter (saxophone, woodwinds). The tribute concert “showcases the individual artistry of each icon and the powerful unifying threads between them.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Kimmel Center Box Office or online at kimmelcenter.org (save over $45 with promo code “Dizzy”).
Being an arts advocate, it should come as no surprise that events at Philadelphia’s iconic museums were among the highlights of my Democratic National Convention schedule. The Philadelphia Citizen held a panel discussion on innovation and local government and watch party at the Barnes Foundation.
I’m a policy wonk and civic app developer so the discussion was in my wheelhouse. But the real attraction was the opportunity to view the Barnes collection without the usual crowds. Although I’ve visited the museum several times, I somehow missed that Horace Pippin’s paintings, including "Supper Time," are in the collection.
The painting immediately brought to mind Irving Berlin’s "Supper Time" from the 1933 Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer. Written for Ethel Waters, the song is about a wife’s reaction to the news of her husband’s lynching. The almost daily occurrence of state-sanctioned racial terror fueled the Great Migration.
Americans for the Arts Action Fund held an ARTSSPEAK@DNC panel at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The speakers included Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, and musicians Ben Vereen and Ben Folds.
The panelists discussed the economic and transformative impact of the arts. I dutifully nodded my head when Vereen acknowledged the panelists were singing to the choir, i.e., “warriors for the arts.” But when he broke out in song, I had to fight back the tears.
To be sure, the Tony Award winner can sang, but it wasn’t just any song. Vereen sang the song that inspired me to believe that I would be able to rise above my station in life. I grew up in deep poverty in Brooklyn. While walking the streets of Bed-Stuy, I would sing “The Impossible Dream” from the 1964 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha.
The lyrics inform my lifelong activism and commitment to social justice. Indeed, I’m living proof that art changes lives.
In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful…
…But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?
For me, July 4, 2016 means that in a little over two months, I will join thousands of African Americans for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The museum has been 101 years in the making. At last, everyone will now know that when we celebrate black history and culture, we, too, sing America.