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Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
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9th Wonder is a GRAMMY Award-winning producer, DJ, college lecturer, and social activist. He has produced songs for musicians such as Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Ludacris, and Drake, among others. The National Ambassador for Hip-Hop Relations and Culture for the NAACP and a members of the Universal Zulu Nation, he is dedicated to the preservation of black music in all its forms and its connections to the African diaspora. He strives to show the new generation “the true manifestations of hip-hop culture and lifestyles” and reclaim positive voice of hip-hop.
Queen Nur is an interactive storyteller and teaching artist from Willingboro, New Jersey, who has performed across the country. Following the griotic tradition, her stories capture historical victories, celebrate folkloric traditions, and profoundly speak to the quintessence of humanity. The mother of three and grandmother of two, Queen received her master’s degree in cultural sustainability from Goucher College, and a certificate in dispute resolution from Harvard Law School.
Cey Adams is a hip-hop visual artist and graphic designer. A New York City native, he was influenced by early 1970s graffiti, comic books, and artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. As the creative director of Def Jam Recordings, he co-founded the label’s visual design firm The Drawing Board to formulate the branding of hip-hop visual culture, designing unique and creative album art, T-shirts, and other visual materials for rap giants such as the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Public Enemy, and Chuck D.
Charlotte Blake Alston performs traditional and contemporary tales of African and African American culture throughout the United States and internationally, often incorporating traditional instruments such as the djembe, mbira, shekere, and kora. She is the recipient of two honorary doctorates, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Artist of the Year for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with the National Storytelling Association’s Circle of Excellence and the national Association of Black Storytellers’ Zora Neale Hurston Award.
Jean Carne is an R&B, jazz, and pop singer and musician. During her early career, she performed with Duke Ellington and Norman Connors, then sang lead vocals on Earth, Wind & Fire’s first two albums before gaining her own success in 1982 with the single “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” She has released nine albums and has been credited as one of the first African American women to control her own voice as a musician rather than being controlled by the industry.
Bobi Céspedes is a Cuban-born vocalist, percussionist, and ordained Yoruba-Lucumi priestess. She carries on a centuries-old tradition of Afro-Cuban music while incorporating contemporary music styles, including Latin jazz, hip-hop, electronica, funk, and dance music. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, she performs at concerts and travels as a university lecturer. She was also a guest artist in the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Sounds of California program.
Len Chandler is a folk musician and poet from Akron, Ohio. Inspired by artists such as Josh White and Lead Belly, he incorporated folk songs into orchestral compositions and symphony performances and became a popular figure during the folk music revival of the 1950s and ’60s. He was also active in the civil rights movement, performing at freedom singer conferences and writing protest songs and chants.
Stanley Clarke is a GRAMMY Award-winning bassist and composer and an Emmy Award-winning television and film composer. He studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Music before arriving in New York City where he joined Return to Forever, Chick Corea’s influential fusion group, and worked with other artists such as Horace Silver and Dexter Gordon. He led the 1970s “bass revolution,” which took the bass from a background role to a revered solo instrument. He founded Roxboro Entertainment Group, a record label that promotes music education, and The Stanley Clarke Foundation, which provides scholarships for young musicians.
Courtland Cox is a civil rights activist and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a leading organization in the civil rights movement, striving toward giving black youth a larger voice. He has dedicated his life and career to activism: increasing voting access, investigating U.S. military intervention in Vietnam, organizing the March on Washington, and directing the Minority Business Development Agency under Bill Clinton. He also co-owned and managed the D.C. bookstore Drum and Spear, a hub for black artists, poets, and progressive political movers of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The Dixie Hummingbirds are credited with pioneering the modern gospel sound. Started in 1928 in Greenville, South Carolina, by James B. Davis, the group moved to Philadelphia in the 1940s. The group won a GRAMMY for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1973 and have received three other nominations in the Traditional Gospel category. In 2000, they were inducted to the GRAMMY Hall of Fame for their 1946 recording of “Amazing Grace.”
An East Oakland native, Ebony Donnley is an award-winning poet, writer, and producer who fuses her work with community activism and education. Her poetry addresses Afrofuturistic joy and the inherent beauty of black women despite racial conditioning to see otherwise. She was a 2009 Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam champion, and in 2016 she represented Youth Speaks at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Sounds of California program.
Led by singer and bassist Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott, Experience Unlimited (E.U.) is one of Washington, D.C.’s original go-go bands. Perhaps best known for their hit “Da Butt,” the group helped develop and still incorporates today the distinctive go-go blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop native to the nation’s capital.
Dom Flemons, also known as “The American Songster,” is a GRAMMY Award-winning folk musician, singer-songwriter, and slam poet. He mixes traditional music forms like ragtime and spirituals with a modern approach to create new sounds. He began his career as a performer and producer in the Phoenix folk scene, and has since played with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African American string band that won a GRAMMY for the 2011 album Genuine Negro Jig. Flemons will release a solo album with Smithsonian Folkways in 2017.
Originally hailing from Albany, Georgia, the Freedom Singers formed as a group in 1962 to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and to inform audiences of grassroots civil rights campaigns throughout the South. Rooted in the worship songs of Southern black churches, they incorporated their political message into choral gospel forms. Their spirited lyrics helped protestors stand together on the picket lines in the face of fear and reminded worshippers that they had God on their side. The group disbanded in 1966 but has reunited on a number of occasions, such as in 2010 when the group performed for President Barack Obama at the White House alongside Bob Dylan and Smokey Robinson.
Born in Senegal and now based in Baltimore, Medoune Gueye performs and teaches African drumming. As director of music for the KanKouran West African Dance Company and founder of the Fara Lambe House of Drums, he has trained hundreds of professional drummers and young musicians. Like his father, Abdou Karim Gueye, Medoune is a Senegalese griot, a musician who maintains the indigenous oral history and traditions of West Africa. He also develops cultural literacy and language immersion workshops and arts education curriculum that uses traditional drumming to explore the intersections of music, culture, oral storytelling, technology, and art.
Ericka Hart is a black queer performer and published writer. After serving as a Peace Corps HIV/AIDs volunteer in Ethiopia, she earned her master’s in human sexuality and has taught sex education from elementary aged youth to adults across New York City. In 2014, she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer and has used her experience to educate others through the arts.
More than just a hip-hop producer and mix DJ, Brooklynite J.PERIOD considers himself a musical storyteller, bridging cultures, generations, and genres. He has worked on production with artists such as Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill, and Black Thought, but he also creates insightful “audio-biographies” mixing together artist interviews with music. His “Live Mixtape” series involves recorded live remixes of new and classic hip-hop and guest rappers.
Born in Benin, Angélique Kidjo is a GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter and a women’s advocate. Influenced by traditional Beninese musical forms as well as African American soul artists like James Brown, she has become one of the premier pan-African voices on the international stage. Using this platform, she has campaigned for women’s health and education in Africa, served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, formed the Batonga Foundation to help girls attend school, and visited refugee camps for people fleeing of violence in Darfur.
Winner of the Zora Neale Hurston Award from the National Association of Black Storytellers and the Circle of Excellence from the National Storytelling Network, master storyteller Baba Jamal Koram uses the griot style of West Africa to perform tales of African and African American cultures with music. His subjects include historical and legendary figures, personal and intimate tales of families and kindness, traditional African mythology, and new versions of well-known folktales.
Since its inception in 1985, the Liberty Brass Band has been bringing the various backgrounds of their members together, infusing classical brass forms with creative elements to create a crisp, fresh sound based on the musical traditions of New Orleans. Musicians have included a range of clarinetists, bassists, drummers, and other players from various jazz and brass band families. In recent years, the band has found a wider audience due to renewed interest in the history and culture of the New Orleans jazz scene that arose in part from the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. In 2015, they featured on the Smithsonian Folkways album New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City.
Singer Corey Glover, guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Doug Wimbish, and drummer Will Calhoun formed Living Colour in the mid-1980s in New York City, blending funk, metal, jazz, and punk music styles. Their debut album, Vivid (1988), including the breakout hit “Cult of Personality,” catapulted their career and earned them the first of several GRAMMYs. After many revolving band members, the group staged a reunion in 2001 and toured through 2009. Their sixth studio album Shade is slated for a 2017 release.
The McIntosh County Shouters come from Bolden/Briar Patch, Georgia, the last known community that still faithfully teaches and performs the “ring shout.” A centuries-old tradition with West African roots, the ring shout originates from enslaved Africans in the United States and Caribbean. Slave shout songs utilize call-and-response, percussion, and dance to affirm spiritual and ancestral connections, to address challenges, and to celebrate community. The group will release a new album on Smithsonian Folkways in February 2017.
The Morgan State University Choir is among the leading choral ensembles in the nation and one of the most acclaimed representatives of the long tradition of choral singing at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Choral ensembles like the Morgan State University Choir have been particularly influential for their development, popularization, and preservation of the repertory of concert spirituals.
The National Hand Dance Association is a D.C. Metro area-based organization founded in 1994, dedicated to promoting, educating, and preserving the art form of hand dance. A swing-style partnered dance, the hand dance developed in the 1950s among African American communities in the D.C. region. With recognition from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1992, the hand dance saw an explosion of renewed interest in dance halls and nightclubs throughout the city and has even been designated the official dance of Washington, D.C.
Singer, songwriter, and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello’s distinctive work draws inspiration from various musical traditions, including hip-hop, funk, jazz, go-go, and rock. Her politically conscious albums address topics ranging from African American history and Marxism to homophobia in the black church. With her commitment to speaking truth to power, she is an activist musician in the tradition of icons like Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte.
Raised in the tradition of social justice, Brittany Packnett has committed her life to education equality, youth leadership development, police reform, and equity in underserved communities. In addition to her job operating Teach for America in St. Louis, she co-founded Campaign Zero and works withWe the Protesters and the Black Lives Matter movement. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force. In 2015, TIME Magazine named her one of Twelve New Faces of Black Leadership.
Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava play gaita negra (literally “black pipes”), a musical style originating in the Montes de María in Colombia, a result of contact between Africans, indigenous peoples, and Europeans in the sixteenth century. It represents the voice of a unique, mixed Colombian identity. Sixto “Paíto” Silgado Martínez has dedicated his life to continuing this musical tradition. While a master of other traditional genres such as gaita corrida and merengue, he also draws inspiration from rock ’n’ roll and other contemporary music, making his wide repertoire innovative and uniquely his own.
Since 1963, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has brought the heart and soul of New Orleans jazz to the rest of the nation, preserving the vibrant musical traditions of the Crescent City’s African American communities. While honoring the artistic forms of the generations that came before it, the band incorporates present issues faced by their communities—particularly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010—into their ethos by creating “protest songs that make people dance.”
Originally formed in 1982, Public Enemy introduced a hard-edged, intense hip-hop sound that was influential in the early evolution of the genre. The group fuses hip-hop rhythms with poetic lyrics addressing social and political issues centering on the black experience. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, the ever-evolving group is widely sampled, influencing all varieties of popular music worldwide.
Virtuoso pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph started playing the instrument as a teenager in the House of God Church, which had been using steel guitars since the 1930s. He began exploring secular rock and funk music in the early 2000s and was soon leading his own bands, working with celebrities like John Medeski, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana. His music remains rooted in the distinctive traditions of his community even as he challenges stereotypes with his genre-blurring funk-rock performances.
The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band was founded in 1970 by Othar Turner, a Mississippi farmer who was one of few people to keep up the practice of African American fife and drum groups. Currently under the leadership of Turner’s granddaughter Sharde Thomas, the band draws on nineteenth century traditions like field hollers and early blues along with more contemporary influences. Their music is yet another example of the resilience and durability of African American musical traditions within families and communities.
The Roots have been creating progressive, genre-bending hip-hop since their debut in 1993. Celebrated for their use of live instruments instead of samples, the group has maintained their own robust standards of social commentary and creativity even as their international fame has grown. Today the Roots are among the world’s most recognizable groups, having worked as the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late-night programs since 2009 and regularly appearing other world-class artists including Erykah Badu and Elvis Costello.
Sonia Sanchez is an award-winning poet, activist, and educator focused on black culture and literature, women’s liberation, peace, and racial justice. She has published dozens of books and audio recordings, including a Folkways Records album in 1971, and she is a contributing editor of Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies. Her work was also featured in Freedom Sister, an interactive exhibition created by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Smithsonian highlighting the work of twenty African American women. This year, she was designated the National Park Service Centennial Poet Laureate.
Jazz musician John Santos was raised in the Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean traditions of his family and surrounded by the fertile musical environment of the San Francisco Bay Area. Across a career spanning five decades, he has been recognized for his achievements as a composer, producer, percussionist, and Afro-Latino music educator. At the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he was accompanied by Bobi Céspedes; at Freedom Sounds, he accompanied her.
Since 2000, the Stax Music Academy has been training a core of young musicians in the “Memphis sound” of the legendary Stax Records label. In after-school and summer programs, students study vocals, instrumentals, music writing, music theory, production, and other aspects of creating music. The talented students perform all over the world during a Summer Soul Tour and at special concerts and music festivals. They performed at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival during the Rhythm and Blues program.
A native of Rockville, Maryland, vocalist and harmonica player Jay Summerour carries on the tradition of Piedmont blues of the mid-Appalachia region, characterized by a guitar fingerpicking method alternating a bassline with the thumb and syncopated melody with the forefinger. Along with guitarist Warner Williams, he has performed at past Smithsonian Folklife Festivals and released music on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, including songs on the compilation albums Classic African American Songsters and Classic Harmonica Blues.
Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon with the D.C. Black Repertory Company in 1973, Sweet Honey in the Rock is an all-woman Grammy-winning a cappella group whose music is powerful and emotional in both sound and message. Their performances incorporate five-part harmony, dance, and interpretive sign language and span genres including elements of gospel, folk, hip hop, jazz, and R&B. They have performed in response to apartheid, women’s rights, racial profiling, and police violence.
Louise Toppin, a world-renowned soprano singer and pianist, has received acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, and oratorio performances in the United States and abroad. Her most recent album, Heart on the Wall, is a collection of art songs with music written by African American composers. She is the director for Videmus Records, a nonprofit label that focuses on promoting African American, women, and underrepresented artists through concerts, recordings, and scholarship programs.
Founded in 2005, Urban Artistry is an organization dedicated to preserving and honoring the dance forms that arise out of the urban experience. Based in Washington, D.C., the group’s ongoing Preservatory Project documents the history of dancers, DJs, music producers, and other artists who make up the urban dance scene by providing a forum through which community members can tell their own stories.
Josh White, Jr. is a folk, blues, and jazz singer-songwriter, actor, and social activist from New York City. His father was legendary bluesman Joshua Daniel White. After a successful career turns as a child actor, a solo singer and guitar player, and collaborations with other top artists, White shifted his focus to performing children’s and family concerts, providing interactive musical experiences celebrating cultural diversity and linking music to a rich tradition of political and social struggle.
Baakari Wilder is a D.C.-based tap dancer and actor famous for starring in the Broadway musical Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln center, and for audiences around the world. Currently he is the assistant artistic director of the local dance company Capitol Tap.