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August Wilson Center - Front & Center » Review - “Amplifying African American Voices”

Review

REVIEW: In My Father’s House

Posted in Exhibitions, General, Guest Posts, Review on September 12th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
This past weekend, we opened the first exhibit we ever commissioned,  In My Father’s House. It’s been years in the making–but well worth the wait. Underwritten by UPMC, with additional support from FedEx, it is a mixed-media exhibition designed as five rooms in a house. Each room highlights a distinct approach to preserving and displaying the visual art and material culture of people of African descent.  The rooms tell the story of a fictional Pittsburgh family, their hopes, dreams, struggles and triumphs. Guest blogger Ada Gay Griffin, director of annual giving at The Center, took what she thought would be a few moments to check out the new exhibit. Ada sings praises of the entire exhibit, but in this blog pays homage to the exhibit’s last room, titled “From Drums to Zeros and Ones.”

Inside "In My Father's House"

Inside "In My Father's House"

“From Drums to Zeros and Ones” is a multichannel video installation commissioned by the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for its newest exhibit, In My Father’s House, which opened September 11, 2010. The 8-minute anthem, created by award-winning documentary filmmaker Demetria Royals, is projected in a modern, dimly lit media room decorated with comfy seats and subtle electronic media references.The room and video have the same name.  Here, Royals (Mama’s Push Cart, Conjure Woman) invokes America’s complex heritage of repression, pitted against the intellectual muscle, political action, and sublime creativity wielded by intrepid African Americans resisting the horrors of Middle Passage and its lasting impact.

Culturally-literate, historically-informed and pop-afflicted, this is an emotionally riveting video poem, connecting multiple themes and powerful messages of culture consciousness and social change through media clips, a James Baldwin interview, and a stylized chronolography.

Depicting centuries of repression, struggle and achievement, the mini-documentary is a welcome tribute to both the embattled and the inspired. Images and commentary of 20th century innovators pop up unexpectedly. Text fades in and out, or tracks across the screen. I whisper the names of each fleeting image I recognize - Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, Phyllis Hyman, Shirley Chisholm…”unbought and unbossed.” The musical parody of the Wings’ hit classic Let ‘Em In at first seems more silly than profound as it sweeps over speeches, sound bites and brief shots of trailblazers that flicker by. All of a sudden, the enduring duality of African American experiences and expressions, represented throughout the entire exhibit, clicks in. And it feels just right.

Sorcerer’s Village, Romare Bearden, Serigraph, 1972

Sorcerer’s Village, Romare Bearden, Serigraph, 1972

The fifth and final installation in the 5-room exhibit, “From Drums to Zeros and Ones” is an appropriate finale for In My Father’s House. The total exhibit is brimming with masterpieces by Romare Bearden, spectacular photography, African American paintings, African masks and fabrics, an experimental video, as well as period furnishings, chosen by, and in some instances created by, the five curators responsible for assembling the meticulously researched art and artifacts placed in each of the rooms.  This is an exhibit for everyone and well worth the price of bus fare, parking, or a skipped lunch on a Saturday or weekday afternoon. One of the messages here is that regardless of your class, color, age, or education, any lived-in environment can be seen as a gallery of memories and of aspirations, depicted in objects of many forms, collected and displayed because they are important, because they are beautiful. Visit the August Wilson Center soon.

Ada Gay Griffin

Editor’s Note: In My Father’s House will be up through July 2011 at The Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh. Hours are 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and free ages 5 and under and members. For information, call 412.258.2700 or visit AugustWilsonCenter.org.

Review: August Wilson Center Hosts Romare Bearden Symposium

Posted in General, Review on April 8th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment

In late March, the August Wilson Center had the honor and privilege of  hosting the 2010 National Romare Bearden Symposium, Romare Bearden in the Public Realm. Why Pittsburgh? Why the August Wilson Center?
Well for one Bearden spent some formative years in Pittsburgh, graduating from Peabody High School and living in East Liberty with his grandparents. Also, some of his works were inspirations for some of August Wilson’s plays. Bearden came back to Pittsburgh in the 1980s and designed a ceramic tile mural, Pittsburgh Recollections, for the

Homage to Mary Lou, 1984

Homage to Mary Lou, 1984

Gateway Center subway station, Downtown. The piece is now appraised at $15 million. Over 22 national scholars and artists convened to discuss Pittsburgh’s influence on Bearden and the works that fall outside the studio. This included his cartoons, murals and printmaking.
Key moments of the conference included a conversation with novelist John Edgar Wideman, a Pittsburgh native who received early acclaim for his “Homewood Trilogy” and is now on the faculty of Brown University, and a keynote address from Mary Schmidt-Campbell, who was recently named vice chairman of President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and is dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Dr. Schmidt-Campbell has written a book on Bearden that will be published in 2011, the centennial year of his birth.

Joyce Baucum, a photographer and administrative assistant at the August Wilson Center, attended the symposium, calling it “enlightening…and intellectually captivating.” Below she recaps her experience at the two-day symposium:

There was such a wealth of information at the symposium, that I left wanting more and more information to continue learning about the fascinating life and art of Romare Bearden.  The keynote speaker, Mary Schmidt-Campbell pointed me in the direction of Ruth Fine, Bearden biographer and curator of Bearden exhibitions.  All of the panelists were experts in their fields of study and brought wonderful information to share about Bearden, the artist and about “Romie,” the friend.  Grace Stanislaus, the Center’s former vp of education and public programs and Bearden Foundation’s former president and CEO, played a key role in the planning and implementation of the symposium.  The panelists consisted of scholars, visual artists, art historians, art collectors, gallery owners, curators, a choreographer, August Wilson scholars, history professors, a Teenie Harris / Courier archives consultant, and a world-renowned author!  So much intelligence and information was present, that it filled the room and made us want to learn even more.

Here’s hoping we continue the stream of intellectual conversations and exhibitions encompassing the Visual Arts here at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Keeping Phyllis Hyman’s Legacy Alive

Posted in General, Review on February 27th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
August Wilson Center fans, welcome another one of our new guest bloggers, Kieashia Edwell. An avid music and arts aficionado, Kieashia was very enthusiastic about reviewing the Center’s “Tribute to Phyllis Hyman,” held February 19-20 for 2 sold-out performances. The following is her very candid perspective of the evening. Please feel free to comment on how you viewed the evening. And check out the video clips of a couple of the awesome and LIVELY performances.

Walking into the August Wilson Center for the Tribute to Phyllis Hyman, I could not help but to notice that the place was alive! Everyone was dressed to the nines, the place was filled with so much energy-I knew then, this was going to be a show to remember. After scooting past a few people who had clearly had more than their fair share of wine and spirits, I made my way to the theatre, found my seat and got comfortable. An old soul myself, I’m familiar with such artists as Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Stylistics and The Temptations. So, I was ready to relax, hear the pianist (and musical director) Alton Merrell play that big black instrument, and groove to the rich sounds of the legendary Phyllis Hyman.

The house lights dimmed and there was a short intro by the emcee, KDKA’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland, who used words like amazing and

August Wilson Center's "Tribute to Phyllis Hyman"

August Wilson Center's "Tribute to Phyllis Hyman"

wonderful to describe what the packed house was about to see. The band took their place as the stage lit up in front of me. In walked Laila Bey, Tamara Faulkner, Teresa Hawthorne and Deborah Moncrief singing an inspiring rendition of Phyllis’ “Just 25 Miles To Anywhere.” They were dressed with the same flare, style and pizzazz of Ms. Hyman herself. At the end of the song, a photo of the late songstress was projected on a large screen to spark our memory, and the ladies exited. The musicians transitioned into perhaps the most familiar of Phyllis Hyman’s jams. “You Know How To Love Me” was performed by Laila Bey, who gave a good vocal performance, but left a little to be desired. Although she possessed a powerful vocal range and looked beautiful, she lacked stage presence–something Phyllis was known for possessing.  After quickly exiting the stage, Ms. Bey made way for Deborah Moncrief. The band then engaged the crowd with the slow and steady “No One Can Love You More.” Mrs. Moncrief belted out a spectacular version of the timeless ballad. With that soulful and strong performance, she made us all remember when we cried along with Phyllis as she pleaded with her love.

We were then taken back to 1978 by Tamara Faulkner and her lively version of “The Answer Is You.” The crowd ooh’d and aah’d as she swept herself across the stage. Her energy was contagious, and her vocal performance was brilliant. She connected well with the audience and even kicked off her shoes to replicate the famous performances Ms. Hyman was known to give. Tamara’s scatting and strong personality kept us enthralled in her presentation. It was then Teresa Hawthorne’s turn to show us her chops. Her version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” was somewhat nasal and frequently pitchy, but still entertaining. It was hard not to tap your foot to the well-known hit. More performances followed including a spectacular cover of “Living Inside Your Love,” “Be Careful” and “When You Get Right Down To It.” We were then treated to yet another moving presentation by Deborah Moncrief with “Living All Alone.” A cover of “Gonna Make Changes” by Tamara Faulkner closed out the first half of the show.

Upon returning from our little intermission, Deborah Moncrief took us back with a true Phyllis Hyman classic - “Old Friend.” It was another breathtaking performance by Mrs. Moncrief and subsequently earned her a well-deserved standing ovation. We then enjoyed Ms. Hawthorne’s third performance of the evening. Her rendition of “As You Are” wowed the audience and had few mistakes in pitch and tone. Laila Bey and Tamara Faulkner returned with their moving presentation of “Somewhere In My Lifetime,” and “Don’t Wanna Change The World” marking the later years of Ms. Hyman’s career. Perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening, Sonya Carter, of the three background singers, sang “I Refuse to Be Lonely” with such passion and strength that she earned a lasting standing ovation from the crowd. She did a near perfect job of capturing the raw emotion and meaning behind the song. I, for one, was amazed, and wondered how they could not use her as the lead for more of the concert’s pieces. The show concluded with the cast joining together for “In Search of My Heart.”

The August Wilson Center chose the perfect production to share with its members. The striking performances featured in this show had me tapping and humming all the way home. These remarkable singers truly captured the bold and sensuous qualities of Phyllis Hyman’s music. Overall, the night was filled with joy, laughter, and sheer wonder at the talent of the fabulous live band. I was enchanted by the booming bass and distinctive moan of the trombone. I think that Phyllis would have been pleased with the passion behind these voices, and the commitment to keeping her legacy alive.

–Kieashia Edwell

If you would like to be a volunteer guest blogger for the August Wilson Center and blog about your experience at the Center’s programs and events, contact the Center’s Manager of Communications & e-Marketing, Treshea N. Wade at 412.338.8734 or twade@AugustWilsonCenter.org

The Legendary, the Late Phyllis Hyman - August Wilson Center’s Tribute

Posted in Events, General, Review on February 18th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment


Sensuous and sassy. Bold and brilliant. Earthy and ethereal.Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman was all these things and more.

As a singer she was nearly unmatched in her ability to convey the depths of the pain and heartache of lost love. Phyllis, Philly-born and Pittsburgh-raised, could tackle pop and jazz standards as well as up-tempo R&B with equal aplomb. Yet it was the vulnerability of her ballads that most endeared her to fans, who took the journey with her to those lonely, dark places of which she sang.

The August Wilson Center is paying tribute to the late singer Friday, February 19 and Saturday, February 20 by producing a full concert of Phyllis Hyman tunes: 16 songs, 7 voices selected from an open audition and a 7-piece band led by the awesome Alton Merrell. Friday’s show sold out in just a couple of weeks–here’s a tip:

Get your tickets now for Saturday’s show!

Shay Wafer, the Center’s Vice President of Programs, and director for this event, took a few moments to talk with KQV’s Elaine Effort about the Tribute to Phyllis Hyman.

The interview is in three parts. Take a look!

Also–Don’t miss out on this free educational event!

African American Mental Health Forum
Saturday, February 20, 2 to 4 pm
August Wilson Center Education Center, Free

African Americans are at high risk for mental illness, but less likely to receive mental health services, diagnosis and treatment, says a 2002 Surgeon General’s report. This panel discussion explores the history of mental health issues in the African American community and provides steps you can take to assist others in their well-being. Panelists include: Dr. Charma Dudley, Clinical Director - Family Resources, Dr. Daniel Hall, Dr. Nelson Harris, Jeannie Hyman (sister of Phyllis Hyman) and Marguerita Matthew. For information, call 412.258.2700.

Great Connections

Posted in General, Guest Posts, Review on January 19th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
A big welcome to one of our new guest bloggers, Charlene Foggie Barnett, who we’ve featured in past articles for her participation in the August Wilson Center’s production of The Women of the Hill. Charlene, an enthusiastic and dedicated arts supporter, attended Alonzo King LINES Ballet when they performed in front of a packed house on both January 15 & 16. The following is her perspective of the evening.

I’m always fascinated about how situations are connected in the experiences of living. For the past decade, I’ve given my daughter–an 18-year-old dancer–a yearly wall calendar of ballet, modern or contemporary dancers. For the past several years, I’ve selected a calendar

Corey Scott-Gilbert

Corey Scott-Gilbert

whose monthly images are static shots, of the formidable dancers in the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Company. As we entered the August Wilson Center on Saturday evening, my daughter said to me, “you do know that this is the company whose calendars you’ve been giving me.”  I replied, “I hadn’t realized that, but I felt so compelled to see this show when I saw it advertised on the Center’s Web site.”

And it was a real treat. The performance opened with the piece Signs and Wonders, as an undulating cast of strong male dancers took the stage by force. The traditional African music appropriately accompanied the piece in intricate, pulsating rhythms. This was an impressive introduction to the company’s dynamic mentoring (by Alonzo King), coupled with superb technique.

Meredith Webster

Meredith Webster

The standouts for me were a very tall young man, whose limbs seemingly stretched across the expanse of the stage, and a shorter, stockier male dancer, who alternated between displays of strength and graceful prowess. As the enticing ladies in the company later joined them en pointe, each one demonstrated their elegantly woven fortitude. The women bore the ballet in twists and contortions that are not often

performed with such ease and grace. It looked effortless, and yet, I knew “effort” was a major point of the piece.  After a short intermission, the company performed “Refraction.” This piece, albeit very different from the first, was more melodic and swayed me into a comfortable trance, yet it’s complexities, such as the intricate daisy chain near the conclusion, persistently enticed the audience. Lighting played a unique part, and the music, by Jason Moran, was so enjoyable that I searched for it in iTunes. The relational stance between dancers, seemed to individually “pop,” while still being veiled by their unending cohesion, as a whole.

As anticipated, the event was spectacular, and my daughter and her friends enjoyed every minute of it. As usual, the audience included many of those connected to dance in Pittsburgh - Dance Council

Artist Director/Founder Alonzo King

Artist Director/Founder Alonzo King

members, teachers and dancers from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Creative And Performing Arts High School and Dance Alloy to name a few. But the theater was filled to capacity, with a variety of enthusiastic patrons of the arts. I sat in the very last row of the balcony, behind a large group of youngsters, ranging from ages 7 to 12, whose interest never wavered from what they observed on stage. That’s probably because, as I can attest (having been seated all over the theater), there is not a bad seat in the August Wilson Center house.

Immediately following the performance, several of the dancers treated audience members who chose to stay, with a question and answer “Artist Talk” session. Nature had been calling me, so I rushed off to the facilities, but those who attended told me it was a great opportunity to get to know more about Alonzo King’s vision and the company members. Afterward, as I chatted with friends in the lobby, the tallest male

Alonzo King and Laurel Keen

Alonzo King and Laurel Keen

dancer from LINES was leaving the theater. As fate would have it, a (young male) dancer friend of our family, who attends CAPA and PBT, was introduced to the LINES dancer and enjoyed a moment of encouraging conversation.

You’ve got to appreciate the August Wilson Center - not just for the great shows they bring to Pittsburgh, but for the hospitable manner in which these acts are presented. Also, at the end of a performance, I never feel pressured to abruptly leave, as I often do in other theatres, but rather enjoy browsing the well-stocked gift shop, and sharing a brief moment of conversation with friends. Thanks once again, AWC, for a lovely evening of entertainment and connection!

- August Wilson Center Patron, Charlene Foggie Barnett

OTHER COVERAGE:

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Paper
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (article 2)
CrossCurrents
CrossCurrents (article 2)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

EDITOR’S NOTE: Coming up next– February 6, 8 pmDaniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), a classically trained composer, performer, violinist and band-leader noted for blending funk, rock, hip-hop and classical music into an energetic and experiential sonic form.

Regina Carter Review: To Know Her, Is to Love Her

Posted in Events, General, Guest Posts, Review on January 2nd, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
The following is a guest-post from arts and cultural enthusiast Carmen Ramsey Ellington. Carmen, an avid supporter of the August Wilson Center, attended the Regina Carter concert in December. Internationally acclaimed jazz violinist Regina Carter and her quartet performed pieces from her Paganini project along with music from Mali, Senegal and Uganda. Carter brought sold-out audiences to their feet with a musical style Time magazine called “probingly intelligent” and “breathtakingly daring.” This concert was presented in partnership with MCG Jazz. Carmen wanted to share her experience at the August Wilson Center with you.

Regina Carter

Regina Carter

Breathtaking.

That single word has reverberated in my mind since my mother and I had the pleasure of seeing Regina Carter and her band in concert at the August Wilson Center on December 12th.  Neither of us had ever seen Carter perform and in fact knew almost nothing about her or her music.  We were attending the concert primarily to support the Center.  Carter’s talent drew the two neophytes in, and quickly.

She opened her show with a lush, romantic piece by Habib Koite, who, coincidentally, will be performing at the August Wilson Center in mid-March 2010.  My first thought was that the song belonged on the soundtrack of a sweeping romantic epic, set somewhere like Mozambique or Cote D’Ivoire.  My second thought was that she should come back to the Center in March and perform the song with Koite.  She had my undivided attention from the very first note to the very last.

Regina Carter

Regina Carter

I felt as though I was being treated to an auditory travelogue.  The music took me to places I’ve never seen:  Uganda, Mali, Madagascar.  The melodies were at turns serious and cheeky.  The band’s 20-minute tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans was so rollicking, I had to remember that I wasn’t in the midst of Mardi Gras and had to remain in my seat.  The band also played a song in tribute to the arts and supporters of the arts.  It was a wonderful piece that made me think of all the reasons why arts education is so important.  Music truly is a universal language, one that should be cultivated and taught at an early age.

Carter was, of course, the evening’s focal point, but her band was amazing as well. I loved how well they meshed, and how Carter gave each plenty of room to shine.  Each one of the gentlemen in her band brought something unique to the evening, but surprisingly, the one who sticks out in my mind the most is Will Holshouser, the accordion player.  I never imagined that accordion music could be romantic and a bit sexy.  And Yacouba Sissoko, the kora (West African harp) player, was simply captivating.

Capitvating.  Sexy.  Romantic.  Breathtaking.  Regina Carter and her band were all that and then some.

–Carmen Ramsey Ellington