HONOR! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, Curated by Jessye Norman
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From the drumbeats of Mother Africa to the work songs and Spirituals created in a new land, a path can be traced to the blues, gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip-hop expressions of African Americans that are celebrated throughout the world. In addition, African American classical music performers have become icons of concert halls and opera stages everywhere. It bears noting that Carnegie Hall presented its ﬁrst African American headliner—the fascinating soprano Sissieretta Jones—in 1892, just one year after the Hall opened.
And so it was absolutely appropriate that one of America’s greatest singers—soprano Jessye Norman—should curate HONOR! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy at Carnegie Hall, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and the Apollo Theater in March 2009. In charting the story of this great cultural tradition, Norman invited audiences on a personal journey to recognize the trailblazers and the courageous artists of the past through concerts, recitals, lectures, panel discussions, and exhibitions. This vast cultural fabric of the African American experience consisted not only of the music, but also the words, the images, and the dances of a people, all providing rich fulfillment of the Langston Hughes credo: “Hold fast to dreams.”
Norman called the 19-day festival a “journey of exploration, impression, and expression” into the world of African American music. Carnegie Hall’s National High School Choral Festival brought worthy groups from New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and Washington to participate in the late Michael Tippett’s anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time, which employs Spirituals in much the same manner as J. S. Bach employed chorales in his choral music. Dee Dee Bridgewater sang jazz in Zankel Hall, and there were lecture demonstrations by Imani Winds. Norman sang some of Duke Ellington’s neglected sacred music in The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and participated in a new multimedia work in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage by composer Laura Karpman based on Hughes’s Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.
After a joyful celebration of Spirituals and gospel music at the legendary Apollo Theater on 125th Street, HONOR! closed with an evening of tribute to great African American singers through the ages, including Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, and the thousands of other American voices that have resounded so magniﬁcently and freely in Carnegie Hall throughout its history.
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
CUNY Graduate Center
Kingsborough Community College Performing Arts Center
Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center of the Queens Public Library
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
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, Howard University, and the A. L. and Jennie L. Luria Foundation.
Honor! is made possible, in part, by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.