A return to the performing arts with 100 days of ‘NY PopsUp’ events

By Deb Miller -February 8, 2021

Governor Andew M. Cuomo has just announced that, beginning on Saturday, February 20, an unprecedented and expansive festival featuring hundreds of pop-up performances (many of which are free of charge and all open to the public) will intersect with the daily lives of New Yorkers, transforming cityscapes and landscapes – including iconic transit stations, parks, subway platforms, museums, skate parks, street corners, fire escapes, parking lots, storefronts, and upstate venues – into stages for world-class NY artists. With more than 1000 performances of over 300 NY PopsUp events planned throughout the five boroughs and across the state, the 100-day initiative is intended to jumpstart the struggling live entertainment sector, while revitalizing the spirit of New York with the energy of the live in-person performing arts.

The festival of multi-disciplinary events, designed to grow in scale, volume, and locations through Labor Day (reaching an apex with the 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival and The Festival at Little Island at Pier 55 – a soon-to-open first-of-its-kind public park on the Hudson River that merges nature and art) is a private/public partnership overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, in conjunction with the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and Empire State Development (ESD). Coordinated with state public health officials in strict adherence to Department of Health (DOH) COVID-19 protocols, it will serve as a pilot program for how to bring live performance back to NY safely after the long pandemic shutdown, forming a bridge to its full safe return.

“Cities have taken a real blow during COVID, and the economy will not come back fast enough on its own – we must bring it back,” said Governor Cuomo. “Creative synergies are vital for cities to survive, and our arts and cultural industries have been shut down all across the country, taking a terrible toll on workers and the economy. We want to be aggressive with reopening the State and getting our economy back on track . . . New York has been a leader throughout this entire pandemic, and we will lead once again with bringing back the arts.”

The NY PopsUp programming is curated by interdisciplinary artist Zack Winokur and a hand-selected council of artistic advisors who represent the diversity of New York’s performing arts scene and artistic communities. The council is comprised of renowned choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham; three-time Grammy Award-nominated jazz musician Jon Batiste; choreographer and Hoofer Award-winning tap dancer Ayodele Casel; Grammy Award-nominated singer, actor, and international opera star Anthony Roth Costanzo; Tony Award-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris; Tony Award-winning set designer Mimi Lien; nine-time Grammy Award-winning musician Wynton Marsalis; two-time National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poet, essayist, and playwright Claudia Rankine; Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant; leading member of the Punch Brothers and four-time Grammy Award winner Chris Thile; acclaimed Saturday Night Live  writer, comedian, and actor Julio Torres; and acclaimed director and musician Whitney White.

Billy Porter. Photo courtesy of NY PopsUp.

The public will encounter a range of artists representing all areas of performance, from theater to dance, poetry to comedy, pop music to opera, and so much more. Among the confirmed artists are Hugh Jackman, Renée Fleming, Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Isabel Leonard, Nico Muhly, Joyce DiDonato, John Early and Kate Berlant, Patti Smith, Mandy Patinkin, Raja Feather Kelly, J’Nai Bridges, Kenan Thompson, Gavin Creel, Garth Fagan, Larry Owens, Q-Tip, Billy Porter, Conrad Tao, Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber, Tina Landau, Rhiannon Giddens, Aparna Nancherla, Anthony Rodriguez, Jonathan Groff, Savion Glover, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Chris Celiz, Christine Goerke, Kelli O’Hara, Dev Hynes, Phoebe Robinson, Sara Mearns, George Saunders, Caleb Teicher, Danielle Brooks, Jeremy Denk, Idina Menzel, Sondra Radvanovsky, Gaby Moreno, Davóne Tines, Jerrod Carmichael, Taylor Mac, Sutton Foster, Jessie Mueller, and Courtney ToPanga Washington, and many others.

In a joint statement, producers Rudin and Rosenthal remarked, “As two lifelong New Yorkers, it has been utterly devastating to see our creative community brought to an absolute standstill for a year. It’s inconceivable. We both spend our lives generating opportunities for artists, so we were both thrilled to be asked by Governor Cuomo to try to ignite a spark to bring art and performance back to life for the State. The passionate enthusiasm of every person we asked to join us in this incentive is going to make this a labor of both love and invention . . .  Frankly, our most profound hope is that by the time NY PopsUp culminates on Labor Day, New York will be fully on the way to being reopened and revitalized and that this initiative, having served its purpose, will no longer be necessary. It’s the spark, not the fire – the fire is the complete return of all the arts, in their full glory, standing as they always have for the rich, emotional life of the city and state in which we both live.”More details about NY PopsUp will be announced soon. Please note that, given the impromptu nature and surprise element of the pop-up format, not all performances will be announced in advance. Please follow @NYPopsUp on Twitter and Instagram for the latest.

VIA: Deb Miller
SOURCE: dcmetrotheaterarts.com

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

Audrey Farnsworth | December 21, 2020

Is it me or does that tuba look like a villain?

Please welcome the musical instruments of the apocalypse. These guys are large and in charge, sometimes made up of several musical instruments put together to form a sort of hybrid musical instrument experience. One of these instruments is a house. One of them is a tuba named Carl. Many of them are organs. But all 11 of these bad boys are extremely large.

The World’s Largest Tuba Named “Big Carl”

Meet Big Carl, the world’s largest tuba. This tuba lives at a music store in New York where it has been since the year 1900. Big Carl weighs more than 100 pounds and stands about eight feet tall–which is much larger than your regular run-of-the-mill tuba which clocks in at about 42 inches tall and weighs around 35 pounds. Big Carl sounds like if five tubas were one robust tuba, belching out those low notes loud and proud.

The Largest Violin on Earth

The biggest violin on the planet earth is 14 feet tall and takes three people to play it (but it IS playable). Two violinists work the bow and one other violinist is up there at the top, pressing the strings. This big boy weighs about 290 pounds and plays a tune much lower than a regular, normal-sized violin–about three octaves lower to be exact. It was a Guinness Book of Records winner in 2012 and was made by 15 German violin makers in the town of Markneukirchen.

The Symphonic House

This musical instrument is a house. It was created by two architects and it is, again, both a house and a working musical instrument. How, you ask? Well, it’s a container of vibrations, pretty much. It contains two huge harps that are transferred through tubes to the living room, which acts as the acoustic chamber. And this causes the music to be heard throughout the house.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ

This humongous organ is located in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and boasts the important title of “largest pipe organ ever built”…based on the number of pipes in it, that is. Technically there could be a larger organ, per se, in size, but this guy? This guy’s got the most pipes and, apparently, that is the metric by which we measure pipe organs. The organ has seven keyboards, over 1,200 stops, and (drumroll) 33,000 pipes.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

And This Other Extremely Large Organ

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is another one of the world’s biggest organs, and this one is actually the “world’s largest musical instrument.” See? Told you there was technically a bigger organ. This one can be found in the Luray Caverns in Virginia–that’s right, the world’s largest musical instrument is located inside of a cave, deep underground. It was created by a fella called Leland W. Sprinkle, a mathematician and scientist, at the Pentagon in 1954.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

The Earth Harp

The Earth Harp reigns as the longest stringed instrument in the world. Those strings run about 1,000 feet in length and are played by musicians wearing cotton gloves with violin resin on them. They glide their little hands down those bows and sweet, huge harp music blasts right out. It is said to sound like a cello.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

The Octobass

Despite sounding like it might be half-octopus-half-musical-instrument, the octobass is, generally, the largest string instrument for an orchestra, although only one known composition specifically requires it, Charles Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass. At 12-feet, it’s usually played by two people, so hopefully you have a musical friend to team up with. The octobass was created in 1850 by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

A Big, Big Drum

The biggest drum in the world award goes to a South Korean-made drum that’s over 18-feet in diameter. It won the Guinness Book of World Records title after being completed in 2011. This big ol’ drum is a “CheonGo,” a traditional Korean drum, and is over 19-feet tall.

The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World
The 10 Largest Musical Instruments Around the World

These Huge Flutes

The double contrabass and subcontrabass flutes are not your usual flutes, which are tiny and high pitched. These bad boys produce music in lower octaves and…look nothing like smaller flutes. The contrabass flute is eight-feet long has about 18-feet of tubing, while the subcontrabass is over 15-feet long. They’re shaped like a tube, except then it turns into a triangle and swerves around. They produce a noise that would create the ideal soundtrack to a robot doing laundry.

SOURCE: foders.com

Music to Our Ears: Teaching Music Therapy

by Andrew Hibel
Friday, July 28, 2017

Music therapy is a field that few people know about, but makes a large impact in the lives of the people it benefits. In this month’s interview, Andrew Hibel of HigherEdJobs spoke to Kathleen Howland, a professor of music therapy at Berklee College of Music. Howard discusses what drew her to the field of music therapy, why music therapy is so important, and best practices in music education.

Andrew Hibel, HigherEdJobs: Dr. Howland, You currently teach music therapy classes at Berklee College of Music. Please tell us a little about your background and the path that led you to work in higher education.

Kathleen Howland, Ph.D., Berklee College of Music: Following my Ph.D. in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of South Carolina, I maintained a clinical practice in music and speech therapy. I moved back to Boston and began to guest in classes at Berklee. My devotion to neuroscience as a means to better understanding the power of music was a compliment to the skills and knowledge base of my colleagues. Guesting became a way to becoming an adjunct which led to a full-time position three years ago.

Hibel: When you first learned about the profession of music therapy, what intrigued you?

Howland: The stories of how people were drawn to the profession are quite fascinating. In fact, I have filmed many of these stories for an advocacy website called Music Therapy Tales. For me, it was an epiphany to conjoin my love of music in the service of others. This was back in 1979/80 when music therapy was barely known. A former high school classmate said that she was a music therapy major at Emmanuel College in Boston. I was immediately intrigued and quite certain that that was what I wanted to do even though I was very uncertain of what it meant or entailed. It was just a natural fit and a leap of faith. I transferred colleges late in July, which was problematic, but happily I was able to begin my studies at Emmanuel in September. I have never regretted the choice and honestly can’t imagine a work life that could be more rewarding or satisfying 35 years later.

Hibel: In an article you published, you noted the numerous capabilities music therapy has such as promoting skill learning in stroke patients, decreasing the time premature babies spent in the NICU, or decreasing the level of pain felt after surgery for some patients. What are other potential benefits music therapy can provide?

Howland: Music therapy is a powerful opportunity to serve many disorders and diseases. People with Parkinson’s disease can walk better with music than without. This helps break the isolation and limitations of the disease as it progresses. It also helps these patients speak more clearly and supports their swallowing integrity. With children who are autistic, particularly very young ones, sung cues are often more attended to than spoken ones. This attentiveness to music can facilitate their speech and language development. Music is a natural and common approach to relaxation. When this is used clinically, we can support patients preparing for surgery, cancer treatments, and those who are in pain, anxious, or traumatized. Honestly, the possibilities are endless. Some of it has been formally investigated and there is much more to do but we stand on good ground.

Hibel: In that same article, you discussed how you are preparing the next generation of music therapists and you stated, “For many students, it’s an attractive opportunity – a chance to use their artistry to make the world a better place.” This is a powerful statement. What teaching methods do you use to inspire the students to do this?

Howland: I work to get to know my students on a personal level. In the first week of class, I will ask them questions about their aspirations and plans in the field as well as the observations they have made in their clinical rotations that inspire them to continue in a rigorous curriculum. Throughout the semester, I will try to continue to tailor the classes to those stated points of interest. Every semester then, the content is slightly shifted.

In the classroom, I also speak frequently about the power of music to heal and transform society. I match that vision of the role of music with a call to action both in their musical lives and their clinical lives. I speak to my students about the kind of leadership roles they can assume. When I read assignments that are well-written, I always suggest that they consider writing in the future as a contribution to the field. When I observe people who are particularly organized and innovative, I invite them to consider how those skills can serve the profession in leadership roles at the state and national level. I work to tailor my comments of the day to be an anchor in their future possibilities.

Hibel: You wrote, “[Music Therapy] is this fusion of what many consider two distinct, incompatible entities – art and science – that ultimately elevates both; and the two, as one, can more readily accomplish their shared purpose: the healing and betterment of humanity.” What do you say to those who don’t believe that art and science can’t be combined?

Howland: Neuroscience has been studying music perception and production extensively for the last 20 years or so since the advent of imaging technology. One neuroscientist told me that he felt that musical functions in the brain are beyond fascinating and feels that understanding the brain during music experiences will help scientists understand the brain better in general. That’s because music processing is diffusely activated throughout the brain and is not localized like other domains (speech, language, vision, etc.). Because of this comprehensive engagement, diseases and disorders rarely impact music functioning. Further, music processing shares neural anatomy and physiology with other skill domains (e.g. singing and speaking) as well as holding distinct areas of function (e.g. pitch perception). Because of this, we can leverage music toward rehabilitating the other skill. An excellent example is the case of aphasia (a speech/language disorder caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury). Many expressive aphasics can sing but cannot talk (Gabby Giffords is an example of this). We can use therapeutic singing and other music-based interventions to help repair the neural connections related to communication and optimize recovery.

I have always felt that science was an asset in understanding the importance of the arts. I believe and assert that music education should be a primary subject for optimizing brain development as well as engaging cooperative and empathic behaviors in the K-12 system. It also develops a skill and passion that will be a gift for life. I’ve seen it personally when bringing music therapy to hospice patients. Nina Kraus’ website at Northwestern Univeristy gives extensive information in support of music as an important asset in child development for lifelong gains. Science, in its irrefutability, demonstrates the utmost importance of its inclusion and prominence.

Hibel: I am always interested in how (and why) musicians have incorporated philanthropy into their messages. Over the past couple of years, we have been following and supporting the efforts of Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick as he and his family explore the autism of his son. Their efforts have resulted in a project called Rock Your Speech where they use music and music videos to help children with autism. What would you recommend to influential members of the music industry on how they can use their efforts, and voices, to further the field of music therapy?

Howland: I am familiar with the Rock Your Speech efforts and applaud Tom and his family! I think and teach that musicians, who have the microphone and a following, have an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to speak to social justice and environmental issues that they care about. This generation of students has grown up under the dark cloud of global warming data, the annihilation of animal, insect and bird species, caustic political discourse, hunger, and violence. They are big hearted, globally minded, and action oriented

I have never really understood why celebrities didn’t commit more time, energy, and attention to issues of music education and music therapy. It seemed to be so natural. I have been greatly heartened and rewarded recently by my very favorite artist, Renee Fleming, becoming interested in my beloved profession. Ms. Fleming is devoting her considerable influence to bringing a brighter light to shine on music therapy. She recently hosted a marvelous event at the Kennedy Center with the head of the National Institute of Health, Francis Collins, called ‘Sound Health.’ It was the most heavenly two days I have ever spent professionally. It is my hope that this light will attract other artists to consider the power of their music to influence wellness and well being. Artists should know how important their songs have been in the treatment of people in both medical and educational settings.

Hibel: Berklee College of Music has fostered some well known musicians, such as John Mayer and Charlie Puth, in addition to 114 almuni receiving 275 Grammys. Obviously Berklee’s approach to music education is successful. What are some of the key competencies and best practices that Berklee follows?

Howland: The core music curriculum at Berklee is a system that has been tried and true. It is extensive and focused. The faculty are active musicians, therapists, and educators who live a robust life in music, often maintaining their own careers recording and performing while teaching.

Hibel: What keeps you engaged working in the field of music therapy in higher education?

Howland: The hope and firmly held belief that music therapy is reaching a place of honor and that the field is being positioned to be included extensively in both medical and educational settings. It may no longer be a service that only people with means can access. It will be made available to all equitably because it has proven benefits. It is to this that I maintain my commitment to teaching and cultivating the next generation to assume roles in leadership, to contribute to research, to advocate for the profession with science as the basis for their assertions, to be deeply skilled in the interventions we have developed, and to be innovative in adding to that base of efficacious practices. It gives me great joy to work toward this every day I step in the classroom.

This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SOURCE: Kathleen M. Howland, Ph.D.
VIA: higheredjobs.com
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Martin Bowra/Shutterstock

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Warrior becomes most expensive western work of art sold in Asia at $41.7m

The 1982 work sold today at Christie’s in Hong Kong to an Asian buyer

ANNA BRADY 23rd March 2021

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Warrior (1982) has just become the most expensive Western work of art to be sold at auction in Asia, selling for a low-estimate HK$280m (HK$323.6m/$41.7m with fees) at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

However, the work only notionally sold in Asia, as although it was sold in Hong Kong dollars, the auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen was in fact on a rostrum in London, where the rest of the ensuing 20th Century Art Evening Sale then took place.

Offered in a single-lot live-streamed sale, the painting was estimated to make HK$240m to HK$320m (US$31m-$41m) and had been guaranteed by a third party.

Bidding was slow work between Hong Kong and New York phone bidders, creeping up in HD$5m increments. At first it looked like it might go on a single bid of $240m from Christie’s Evelyn Lin’s phone bidder in Hong Kong. Then Jacky Ho, standing next to Lin in Hong Kong, came in with a $260m phone bid before Alex Rotter in New York asked for $265m from his phone bidder. After several minutes of slow batting between New York and Hong Kong, it sold to Ho’s phone bidder.

Christie’s chief executive Guillaume Cerutti later confirmed on Twitter that the Basquiat work sold to an Asian buyer.

The vendor, an American collector, bought the painting in 2012 at Sotheby’s in London for just £5.5m (with fees). The work had appeared at auction twice this century: selling at Sotheby’s in 2005 and 2007 for $1.8m and $5.6m respectively.

Basquiat’s Warrior, depicted full-length and brandishing a sword, is considered semi-autobiographical and dates to the artist’s most innovative and desirable period. This version was first exhibited at Akira Ikeda Gallery, Tokyo, in 1983, and was included in the 2019 exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in New York City.

“This—1981-1982—is the best period for Basquiat, undoubtedly,” says Cristian Albu, Christie’s co-head of post-war and contemporary art, told The Art Newspaper before the sale. “If you look at the top ten records, nine out of ten are from 1981 to 1982. The energy of his work was at its peak. And it is a rare to have a large one like this.”

He added: “If you look at La Hara [now in a London private collection], which we sold for $34.9m [with fees] in New York in 2017, it was from the same period, of the same dimensions, it had the same rawness about it, the same reality about what was happening in New York in 1981-1982. So, historically this work is very important.”

The idea of selling the work in Hong Kong came off the back of Christie’s New York Hong Kong relay sale in December, when 17 new records were set for artists in Hong Kong. “Because traditionally March is a London season, we decided to continue that idea of using different locations,” Albu said. “The vendor loved the idea of having a Hong Kong component selling the Basquiat linked to the London season. Clients love seeing these new ideas and bringing together locations and clients from the US, Europe and the US…I see a growing appetite in Asia to put together works from the East and West. Why not put a Basquiat with a Sanyu?”

SOURCE: theartnewspaper.com
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Warrior Courtesy of Christie’s

Opinion: Arts Education Is a Student Right, Especially During a Pandemic

by Arlene Campa, California Health Report
March 19, 2021

Students across the country are grappling with difficult feelings, situations and events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are no easy solutions. A national study published in November found that over 80 percent of young adults reported a decline in mental health during the two months after the start of the pandemic.

But arts education has the power to emotionally and academically rebuild students — and the world around us.

I come from an immigrant community, where people routinely shift between English and Spanish in everyday conversation. I also attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, a nationally well-regarded public arts high school. While I share many similarities with my friends at home because of our common backgrounds, my high school is a predominantly white institution. 

Straddling the divide between these two communities was hard, and I molded different versions of myself to exist in each space. Thankfully, I found that art can spread ideas and facilitate cultural exchange. As I grew through my artistic practice, art became a way for me to manifest the society I dreamed of: a place where disparate identities and cultures can coexist with empathy and equality, while nurturing joy and justice.

In California, I serve as the student ambassador to a statewide organization, Create CA, working to ensure every student has access to a full arts education. California’s Education Code promises classes in music, dance, theater and visual arts to all students, but even before the pandemic, only 12 percent of secondary schools met that requirement. 

At the start of this crisis, I saw people in need of a way to heal, and I knew using our imagination was a solution. When I realized I had the tools to aid those around me, I started an online, student-run organization called The Art Hour providing free visual and performing classes for students from the Los Angeles area and beyond. Most students learn about our classes through word of mouth, through social media, or through their school. We give students a platform to express themselves and indulge their imaginations. They make glitter and sparkle costumes inspired by Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits,” act out fantasy worlds to inhabit, and dance with the zeal of prima ballerinas. Teaching young students across the country how to take charge of their own narratives showed me the power the arts hold.

Recently, in a class I hosted, I showed students artwork and posed a question: “What would you like to say to your community?” One student drew a singer that put on an anti-racist, Black Lives Matter concert. The singer was surrounded by phrases like, “Your skin is beautiful” and, “You are loved.” This young girl, who was only 7 years old, used her voice to create an uplifting message for her community. Creating art has made me conscious of how I observe and interact with the world, the same awareness that little girl expressed. 

This coming fall, I have the privilege to attend one of the nation’s most prestigious universities on a full scholarship. Because of my arts education, I see endless career and academic possibilities in front of me. I want every student to have the same opportunities.

In California alone, 1 in 10 jobs is in the arts and culture sector, which doesn’t include the innumerable jobs that rely on creativity — a skill refined with exposure to the arts. What many people don’t realize is that participating in the arts in school opens up opportunities for students beyond the classroom and into their adult lives.  

As I’ve engaged with the arts more broadly, I’ve seen the art world greet my white, affluent peers with open arms, while I’ve had to claim my own space. Because I’ve pioneered my own path, I’ve had artistic opportunities that seem unfathomable — from my first gallery show at the age of 14, to working with arts museums across the county to create bilingual public programming. While arts education has the power to rebuild our students, we must implement it with equity in mind. 

We need to give students, especially students of color and those who are low-income, an arts education that reflects, respects and builds upon their culture, language and background. When we recognize that all art and methods of creating are valid, our art becomes the future. 

Art has the power to heal students’ trauma and rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic. Arts education is necessary to rebuild our society and country. We can use art to reshape our society and culture in a way that is more equitable, and in doing so we can rewrite our own legacy. We just need schools to provide our communities with the tools and resources they need to succeed. Students, parents and teachers need to raise their voices by asking their school board members and administrators to ensure every student receives a full and accessible arts education.

Arlene Campa, 18, is a senior at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, the 2020-21 Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, and the founder of The Art Hour, a student-run nonprofit that provides free art classes to students in grades K-12.

This article first appeared on California Health Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Arlene Campa
VIA: calhealthreport.org
MAIN IMAGE: Arlene Campa, front, is a Los Angeles High School senior and the founder of the Art Hour, a student-led arts education organization. Illustration by Ernesto Yerena.

Flashback: With a CSO concert in 1933, Black composer Florence Price’s career hit a history-making crescendo. The world is finally rediscovering her gifts.

By RON GROSSMAN CHICAGO TRIBUNE | MAR 19, 2021

On June 15, 1933, the flick of a baton turned a page in history. Responding to the conductor’s downbeat, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made Florence B. Price the first Black female composer to have a full-length work performed by a major orchestra.

Subsequently, Price’s significant achievement was all but forgotten — until the recent discovery of her manuscripts, moldering in an abandoned house 60 miles south of Chicago.

At the groundbreaking concert in 1933, Price was repeatedly called on stage to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause her music received.

Frederick Stock, the CSO music director who helped usher Price into the record books, preferred to supplement the European canon with works by American composers. When he chose Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor, he took that commitment to another level.

Reactions in local newspapers were effusive. Robert Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender, arguably echoed the sentiments of the newspaper’s African America readership. He was delighted to report that “an aggregation of master musicians of the white race, and directed by Dr. Frederick Stock, internationally known conductor, swung into the beautiful, harmonious strains of a composition by a Race woman.”

Sheet music for "Adoration," an organ score by composer and musician Florence B. Price.
Sheet music for “Adoration,” an organ score by composer and musician Florence B. Price. (University of Arkansas Libraries)

Tribune critic Edward Moore wrote that Price’s “symphony displayed high talent, both in what she did and what she omitted. … She knows how to be concise, how to avoid overloading and elaboration. The performance made a well deserved success.”

The Chicago Daily News critic announced: “Price’s symphony is worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory.”

Price had validated a prediction made by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak during a visit to the United States. “I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies. … These are the product of the soil. They are American,” Dvorak said, according to a 1893 New York Herald story.

White Americans by and large ignored his message.Delayed Chicago Sinfonietta tribute to MLK streams March 28 »

Four decades after Dvorak’s forecasting, Price wove syncopated rhythms and an African drum into her symphony. Yet racism was still an undeniable fact of American life. Price notably set Black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s bittersweet words in “Sympathy” to music:

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing

Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1887. Her father was the first Black dentist in town, and her mother was a pianist and Price’s first music teacher. When Price was 4, she made an impression on celebrated virtuoso pianist Blind Boone when he caught her performance at a recital. At 16, she was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class.

Composer and musician Florence B. Price, circa 1933.
Composer and musician Florence B. Price, circa 1933. (R.D. Tones / University of Arkansas Libraries)

Price enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, which accepted Black students. It offered the promise of a livelihood: Teaching piano was one of the few professions open to women.

But Price, who was 11 when her first composition was published, was hooked on composing. The director of the conservatory, impressed by a composition she wrote, provided her with a scholarship so she could study in his private studio.

In 1912, she returned to Arkansas, where she married Thomas Price, a successful attorney. Price gave piano lessons and wrote exercise books for young students. She also composed serious music. ’’In The Land of Cotton,” a solo piano piece, took second place in a 1926 competition.

The following year almost brought tragedy to the Price family.

When a multiracial man was accused of killing a white child, white residents in Little Rock vowed retaliation. The lynching of a Black man and rioting followed. The Prices fled Little Rock for Chicago.Flashback: Before Chicago erupted into race riots in 1919, Carl Sandburg reported on the fissures »

Florence Price resumed teaching piano in the family’s new home at 3835 S. Calumet Ave. For her, Chicago’s Black Belt was a musical wonderland. It was dotted with jazz and blues clubs. Gospel music was being born at the nearby Pilgrim Baptist Church. Price played the organ in theaters showing silent movies.

A July 11, 1936, Chicago Defender article about women's achievements described the 1933 concert that made Florence Price the first African American woman to have a composition played by a major orchestra.
A July 11, 1936, Chicago Defender article about women’s achievements described the 1933 concert that made Florence Price the first African American woman to have a composition played by a major orchestra. (Chicago Defender)

But after the 1929 Wall Street crash, Thomas Price lost his job. He beat Florence Price and threatened to kill her. She grabbed their two daughters, found asylum with a student and divorced him. Despite the chaos, she began working on her first symphony and kept at it while laid up with a fractured foot.

“I found it possible to snatch a few precious days in the month of January in which to write undisturbed,” Price wrote to a friend. “But, oh dear me, when shall I ever be so fortunate again as to break a foot.”

In 1932, she entered the finished symphony in a contest sponsored by a philanthropic foundation that supported Black composers. It won a first prize of $500, or $9,600 in today’s dollars.

The money was a financial lifesaver. And the CSO’s request to perform her symphony was a stamp of approval — but also a burden. Musical scores then had to be copied by hand. It required a group effort, a friend of Price’s told Rae Linda Brown, author of the recently published biography “The Heart of a Woman: The Life And Music of Florence B. Price.”

“During the cold winter nights in Chicago, we used to sit around a large table in our kitchen — manuscript paper strewn around, Florence and I extracting parts,” Margaret Bonds recalled. “We were a God-loving people, and, when we were pushed for time, every brown-skinned musician in Chicago who could write a note, would ‘jump-to’ and help Florence meet her deadline.”

Price’s career took off during the Great Depression, even as the failure of a second marriage left her financially stranded. With her daughters, she moved from one friend’s home to another.From 2013: Chen honors long-neglected composer »

Fortunately President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prescription for those lean years included paychecks for artists as well as manual workers. The federal government funded a string quartet in Illinois that premiered Price’s “Fantasie Negre” No. 4 in 1937.

In Michigan, it funded a symphony orchestra that, in 1940, performed her Symphony No. 3. Price joined the orchestra to play her piano concerto.

The Detroit Free Press gave her a rave review. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended a rehearsal and mentioned Price in her syndicated newspaper column.

The previous year, the first lady sponsored a concert by singer Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution canceled an engagement at its hall because Anderson, the acclaimed contralto, was Black.

A Nov. 20, 1940, letter to Florence Price from Eleanor Roosevelt, via the first lady's secretary, Malvina C. Thompson.
A Nov. 20, 1940, letter to Florence Price from Eleanor Roosevelt, via the first lady’s secretary, Malvina C. Thompson. (University of Arkansas Libraries)

Seventy-five thousand people turned out, and among the songs Anderson performed was Price’s arrangement of the African American spiritual “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord.”

When World War II changed the government’s funding priorities, Price needed to find new venues. She repeatedly wrote Serge Koussevitzky, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s conductor. “To begin with I have two handicaps — those of sex and race,” she said in one of her letters.

In 1951, conductor John Barbirolli asked her to write a piece for the symphony orchestra in Manchester, England. Price had never been abroad, and her daughter intended to take her to England for its premiere.

But on June 3, 1953, Price died of a stroke, and her works dropped out of the symphonic repertoire. She’d written about 300.

In 2009, Vicki and Darrell Gatwood bought a fixer-upper house in St. Anne, Illinois, not knowing it was Price’s summer cottage. Fascinated by the numerous manuscripts they found, they reached out to library at the University of Arkansas, which had a collection of her memorabilia.Juilliard celebrates 32 female composers of the 20th Century »

“It’s a wonder anything survived in that house,” archivist Tim Nutt told a university audience in 2018. “A few papers were mildewed or molded, but for the most part, they were in extraordinarily good condition.”

G. Schirmer, a company that sells sheet music, acquired Price’s catalog. Parents whose children balk at practicing the piano might want to buy one of her beginner’s pieces and say to their children:

“Let me tell you the story of a woman who didn’t let adversity stop her from writing this lesson for kids just like you.”

Editor’s note: A recent CSO performance of music by Florence Price is available for streaming at cso.org/tv. Price’s “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint” is part of CSO Sessions Episode 14. Cost is $15.

rgrossman@chicagotribune.com

Share Flashback ideas with editors Colleen Kujawa and Marianne Mather at ckujawa@chicagotribune.com and mmather@chicagotribune.com.

SOURCE: chicagotribune.com
MAIN IMAGE: Florence Price was the first Black female composer to have a full-length work performed by a major orchestra. (G. Nelidoff / University of Arkansas Libraries)

EVERYTHING TO KNOW ABOUT THE MOVIE MUSICALS OF 2021

LEIGH SCHEPS | FEBRUARY 23, 2021

Broadway may be on hiatus right now, but while we eagerly wait for it to reopen, several movie musicals will help us get through 2021. Shows such as In the Heights, Dear Evan Hansen, and West Side Story are being reimagined for the screen, giving audiences a fresh take on beloved stories.

“We’re getting movie musicals again — that’s epic!” says West Side Story star Paloma Garcia-Lee of the recent resurgence. The Moulin Rouge! dancer with six Broadway shows on her résumé hopes “this opens the door for us to tell stories in bigger capacities and not just on Broadway.”

“These iconic pieces are getting this fresh coat of paint,” she says. “Movie musicals are getting their time in the spotlight, and so are triple treats. Now we are seeing, for example, [The Prom actress, singer, and dancer] Ariana DeBose, and the rest of us. We are not just dancers: We are multiplatform storytellers.”

“The fact that these two major movies [Heights and Story] with Latinos are happening and being the center of it all is really incredible,” Carlos Gonzalez, who appears in In the Heights, West Side Story, and tick, tick…BOOM!, said in 2019.

Here’s everything you need to know about the movie musicals headed our way.


In the Heights

The good news is that In the Heights, which features a new song over the end credits, is less than 96,000 days away despite having been pushed back an entire year.

Anthony Ramos (Hamilton) plays Usnavi, a role that was originated by Lin-Manuel Miranda and catapulted his career. So many other recognizable actors are also in the film, including Leslie Grace as Nina; Melissa Barrera (Vida) as Vanessa; Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) as Benny; Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn99) as Carla; Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent) as Daniela; and Olga Merediz as Abuela, the role she originated on Broadway. Elle reports that Dasha Polanco (Orange Is the New Black) is playing Cuca, a new role created for the film. Miranda, who started writing the music for the show when he was in college, plays the Piragua Guy in a cameo.

The movie was filmed during the summer of 2019 in various locations around New York City, and on some days, just two blocks away from where West Side Story was filmed. Jon M. Chu directs, with a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the musical’s book.

The Warner Bros. movie musical, based on the Tony Award–winning Broadway show, will hit both the big screen and HBO Max on June 18.


Cinderella

Cinderella heads for the ball again, a few months after the 1997 made-for-TV version aired on Disney+. This live-action film stars Camila Cabello in her acting debut. Billy Porter plays the Fairy Godparent; Idina Menzel plays Cinderella’s stepmother; Nicholas Galitzine is the Prince; Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver are the King and Queen; John Mulaney and James Corden play footmen/mice; and Missy Elliot is the Town Crier.

Idina Menzel revealed that she and Cabello will sing original songs. Billy Porter raved about the updated screenplay by Kay Cannon, who also directed.

“This new version takes all of that into account and it is the most empowering version of a Cinderella story that you could ever imagine. And that’s all I can say,”

Production on the movie was halted due to the pandemic and picked back up again last summer.

Cinderella premieres in theaters July 16.


Dear Evan Hansen

September is going to be a good month, and here’s why: Ben Platt is reviving his Tony Award–winning role as Evan Hansen in the Universal Pictures movie musical adaptation. Julianne Moore plays Evan’s mother, Heidi; Amy Adams plays Connor Murphy’s mom; Kaitlyn Dever is Zoe Murphy, and Amandla Stenberg is Alana Beck.

The movie is based on the Tony-winning musical about a teen with social anxiety who gets tangled in a series of lies. It features Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Grammy- and Tony-winning music and lyrics. Book writer Steven Levenson adapts his work for the screenplay; Stephen Chbosky directs. Platt’s dad, Marc Platt, serves as co-executive producer.

Dear Evan Hansen is set to be released September 24.


West Side Story

Something’s coming, and we’ve all waited an extra year for it: Nineteen-year-old Rachel Zegler plays Maria opposite Ansel Elgort’s Tony in Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated adaptation of West Side Story. The cast features a roster of Broadway stars, including Ariana DeBose (Anita), Brian D’Arcy James (Officer Krupke), and David Alvarez (Bernardo). Michael Faist (Dear Evan Hansen) is Riff to Paloma Garcia-Lee’s (Moulin Rouge!) Graziella.

Screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) has adapted the original Arthur Laurents–Stephen Sondheim–Leonard Bernstein 1957 musical and added new scenes, dialogue, and characters. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film, plays Valentina, Doc’s widow. Another new character is Fausta, Maria’s dress shop boss, played by Andrea Burns (On Your Feet!).

Straying from the 1961 film, this time the Sharks will be played by Latinos. “I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” Spielberg said in a press release.

The movie was filmed during the summer of 2019 in NYC’s Washington Heights and Brooklyn, and parts of New Jersey, including Newark and Paterson. Broadway’s original Anita, Chita Rivera, visited the set one day for lunch with the Shark girls — one of whom is Yesenia Ayala, who played Anita in Broadway’s 2020 revival of the musical. Of the sisterhood of Anitas, Ayala notes that DeBose’s name will now forever be synonymous alongside Rivera’s and Moreno’s. “Watching her do her own spin and take on it was beautiful,” she said in 2019 of DeBose’s portrayal.

New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck choreographed, paying tribute to Jerome Robbins but not solely relying on the original material. And several ensemble members in the film say the most inspiring person to them on set was Spielberg. “There was a lot of love he spilled all over the dancers,” Burns said of Spielberg in 2020. “Dancers often get the short stick of everything and work the hardest. They are the stars really of this movie, and to see them beloved and cherished so much by Steven Spielberg was beautiful.”

West Side Story premieres in theaters December 10.


Diana: A New Musical

Some people just can’t get enough content about the People’s Princess. There’s the recent popularity of The Crown and the upcoming Spencer movie — and now add a musical to the mix!

The biopic of the Broadway musical about Princess Diana’s life isn’t waiting for theaters to reopen to have a royally grand premiere: The show will first air on Netflix this spring. Diana: A New Musical had begun performances March 2, 2020, before Broadway shows were shuttered due to the pandemic. In August, it was announced the cast was reuniting (after quarantining) to film the show without an audience inside the Longacre Theatre for Netflix. Diana stars Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles, and two-time Tony Award winner Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth.

So far, we’ve gotten to hear a few songs from the show (unless you were lucky enough to score a ticket for the first week of previews), including “If” and “Underestimated.” And we know from Diana’s iconic style, de Waal has several dozen epic costume changes designed by six-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long.

Christopher Ashley directs; Kelly Devine choreographs, with music and lyrics by David Bryan; and the book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro. An exact premiere date has not yet been announced.


tick, tick…BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda started his directorial debut with a bang: tick, tick…BOOM! stars Andrew Garfield in his first singing role.

“Andrew’s someone who’s never been a musical. The other day, we’re in rehearsal, and he stops me and goes, ‘I just have to say, I love doing this,’” costar Robin de Jesús said in 2020 at the beginning of filming.

The show originally premiered Off-Broadway in 2001. It tells the autobiographical story of Rent composer Jonathan Larson as he questions his creative aspirations while living in New York City during the early 1990s. Joshua Henry (The Wrong Man), Judith Light (Transparent), and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) join Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Alexandra Shipp (Shaft) in the cast. Jordan Fisher (Rent: Live), Lauren Marcus (Be More Chill), and Beth Malone (Fun Home) also appear in the film. Christopher Jackson revealed to Den of Geek that he has a cameo in the film.

De Jesús (The Boys in the Band), who plays Michael, Jon’s best friend, revealed last year what it was like to join back up with Miranda. “It’s a bit of a reunion, with many of us from In the Heights, and there’s new people too. They’re connected from other worlds too. So it does feel like a family function in that sense. To watch Lin, who’s always like a little kid, just be amazed by everyone – it’s so infectious. It’s so joyous,” de Jesús said.

Dear Evan Hansen’s book writer, Steven Levenson, penned the screenplay, with music and lyrics by Larson. Filming had just started when the pandemic hit, so the cast and crew went back into production over the summer and wrapped in late 2020.

A release date has not yet been announced but a few scenes were featured in Netflix’s 2021 trailer.


Everyone’s Talking About Jamie

This might be the next teen cult favorite, as everyone’s talking about, well, Jamie. People caught on to the music after listening to the concept album, which came out in 2017. Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is based on the musical of the same name that originally debuted on London’s West End that year. The musical is inspired by the true story featured in a 2011 documentary called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. The movie follows a 16-year-old (Max Harwood) from England as he becomes a drag queen despite his father’s disdain.

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is directed by Jonathan Butterell with a screenplay by Tom MacRae. MacRae also wrote the lyrics to accompany music by Dan Gillespie Sells.

A release for Disney’s 20th Century Studios was set for February 26 after being pushed back from 2020, though it has been delayed again, with no new date set for its release and it is no longer listed on Disney’s movie release calendar.


Come From Away

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical will be available to watch from home. Based on true events, Come From Away tells a touching story in the wake of September 11, 2001. Thirty-eight planes carrying more than 6,500 passengers were rerouted and stranded in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland. The people who lived there opened not only their homes to international strangers, but their hearts. To create the musical, Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein collected hundreds of hours of interviews that turned into this 100-minute production.

Entertainment One announced it will produce and finance a live filming of the musical this May at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, featuring members from the Broadway cast. Filming the show will also employ more than 220 people, many of whom have been out of work since the shutdown. RadicalMedia will film the production, as they did for the filmed versions of Hamilton for Disney+ and David Byrne’s American Utopia for HBO.

After Diana, Come From Away marks the second musical that director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine are collaborating on for film. A release date and the platform it will air on have not yet been announced.

SOURCE: broadwaydirect.com

How Atlanta startup Music Tech Works is changing the way we license music

By Erin Schilling – Technology Reporter/ Atlanta Inno
January 21, 2021, 02:07pm EST

Licensing music has never been a simple process.  

A content creator must first find who owns the rights to song, then negotiate permission to use it. With different production companies, record labels, performers and songwriters, that could mean getting permission from upwards of 10 different people or entities.  

And if you do it wrong, you could face hefty copyright infringement fines.

That’s why Jarrett Hines and Bryson Nobles founded Music Tech Works, a digital indexing site that provides a record of who owns what music.  

“Right now, it’s a painful process because there’s not any one place you can go to and find out who owns what,” Hines said. “We set out to change that and make it available and easily searchable.”  

The index, rightsholder.io, is currently in a private beta mode. Hines said anyone can request an invite, and the founders approve them based on their music needs and the feedback they could provide on the platform.  

The index is based on an algorithm that takes publicly available music rights information and cleanly catalogs and updates it as ownership changes, Hines said.  

Hines, who worked in the music business, said he’s seen a lot of friends miss out on revenue because of licensing problems and saw this as a consistent problem across the industry. 

“The process hasn’t kept up with the technology or demand,” Hines said. “The demand for video content has gone through the roof, but the process is still the same as it’s been for the last 30 years.”

Once the founders perfect the index, Hines said his next step is building out the platform so people can directly negotiate for permission to use the music without having to individually contact all the rights holders.  

The index is available on a subscription basis, and Hines said Music Tech Works will also charge a small transaction fee once that feature is released. 

Collab Capital, an Atlanta-based early-stage investing fund for Black founders, has helped the Music Tech Works founders since they started the venture a couple years ago. In October, Collab Capital led the startup’s $350,000 pre-seed round. 

“They got to a great spot where they had almost 60 million song records indexed, normalized, useful and enriched,” said Collab Capital Managing Partner Justin Dawkins. “It makes for a very, very powerful product, and we think they’re a market leader in that way.”  

Music Tech Works also received funding from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund and have a few angel investors, Hines said.  

SOURCE: bizjournals.com
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Music Tech Works founders Jarrett Hines and Bryson Nobles. Music Tech Works

The World’s Oldest Animal Paintings Are on This Cave Wall

Depictions of pigs found in Indonesia date back at least 45,500 years

By Rachel Nuwer on January 14, 2021

In the Western imagination, ancient cave paintings tend to conjure images of Lascaux, the cave complex in southwestern France that is famous for its exceptionally detailed depictions of humans and animals. The Lascaux paintings, however, are a mere 17,000 years old. The oldest known examples of figurative art, or imagery that shows more than just abstractions, occur in Southeast Asia. Now a painting of pigs discovered in a cave in Indonesia sets a new record for the earliest figurative art—at least 45,500 years old—according to research published on Wednesday in Science Advances.

“We stress that this is only a minimum age,” says co-author Maxime Aubert, a professor of archeological science at Griffith University in Australia. “The rock art in this region could very well be 60,000 to 65,000 years old. We just need more samples.”

Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo where the latest painting was found, is a treasure trove for rock art. Since researchers began working there 70 years ago, they have confirmed around 300 caves containing imagery. In late 2019 Aubert and his colleagues dated a Sulawesi cave painting depicting a hunting scene to at least 43,900 years ago—the oldest known painting in the region at the time.

It is usually challenging to determine when ancient art was made. But the limestone composition of Sulawesi’s caves makes it easier to date paintings that occur there. Porous limestone promotes the formation of speleothems, or mineral deposits formed by water precipitating through rock. Stalactites and stalagmites are examples of speleothems, but microscale deposits can also build up on cave walls, including sections that contain artwork.

Dating technology for Pleistocene paintings works by measuring the ratio of uranium and thorium (which forms as uranium decays) in mineral deposits collected atop ancient art. Scientists use known radioactive decay rates of the two elements to calculate the minimum amount of time that has passed since they were deposited.

The new painting—a series of three to four Sulawesi warty pigs and an outline of human hands—was discovered by Basran Burhan, a doctoral student and co-author of the study, in an isolated valley reachable only by foot. After taking precautions to ensure the collected samples were untouched, the authors calculated that the images must have been made at least 45,500 years ago.

“This is an important contribution,” says James O’Connell, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the research. “The results echo and extend the time range for previously reported Late Pleistocene imagery from Sulawesi.”

No one knows when anatomically modern humans arrived on Sulawesi, so the new discovery is also significant in that it provides evidence of people’s presence in the region tens of thousands of years ago, says Kira Westaway, a geochronologist and Quaternary scientist at Macquarie University in Australia, who was not involved in the research. “Usually stone tools and fossils dug from sedimentary sections provide the oldest evidence of modern humans, and the dating of the rock art lags behind,” she says. “This is the only country in which its art is its oldest evidence.”

The depiction of Sulawesi warty pigs, Westaway adds, implies that these animals were important to ancient humans. “This research, in combination with the body of work produced by [the authors] in the last few years, greatly contributes to our understanding of modern humans in the region,” she says.

But Paul Pettitt, a Paleolithic archeologist at Durham University in England, who was also not involved in the research, says that while the art itself is impressive, the authors’ approach to science “does give me reservations about the reliability of what they publish.”

Specifically, he says, minimum ages are just that—minimums—and cannot definitively be used to claim discovery of “the world’s oldest figurative art.” He adds that, given the paucity of anatomically modern human fossils in the region, scientists cannot rule out the possibility that the works were created by another human species.We do need to see a little less rushing to publish on the basis of a couple of dates and its associated hyperbole—and a little more integrated rigor—before we start rewriting prehistory,” Pettitt says.

Aubert says that he and his colleagues understand that these are minimum values. “There could be sites in the world that could be older. We don’t know,” he says. “But we have to look at the fact that for the evidence we have at the moment, this is the oldest minimum age for rock art.”

SOURCE: scientificamerican.com
MAIN IMAGE: Dated pig painting at Leang Tedongnge site in Indonesia. Credit: Maxime Aubert

Grammy nominations show Recording Academy has made progress on diversity goals – but not enough

David Oliver USA TODAY
November 24, 2020

Grammy nominations arrived Tuesday, and in a year when diversity is top of mind, the Recording Academy is trying to improve on its history. Did it succeed?

The Recording Academy recognized the Black community with nominations this year in major categories – Beyoncé got nine, the most for any nominee, including record of the year and song of the year for “Black Parade.” Hip-hop chart-toppers Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby and Roddy Ricch were recognized with record of the year nods. 

The organization has tried to improve upon its diversity standards. It formed a task force in May 2018 following its January 2018 ceremony that celebrated mostly men and pop music. It vowed to examine “barriers and biases affecting women and other underrepresented voices in the music industry and, specifically, the Recording Academy,” according to a news release at the time, and pledged to double the number of women voters by 2025. 

In a continued push, the Recording Academy invited 2,300 music professionals to its 2020 member class, many of whom were from diverse backgrounds. Along with Grammy-winner Lil Nas X – the “Old Town Road” singer who came out as gay last year – inductees included songwriter Victoria Monét, R&B singer Kiana Ledé, rapper Gunna and gospel singer Le’Andria Johnson.

The academy’s membership was only 26% female and 25% underrepresented ethnic/racial communities when the Academy sent its 2020 class invitations in July.  

But the Recording Academy – like many other awards bodies – still has work to do to achieve stronger, consistent representation.

“I don’t think we’ll say proud yet,” Harvey Mason Jr., interim CEO/president of the Recording Academy, told USA TODAY in an interview about the diversity of this year’s nominees. “We’re feeling positive or feeling optimistic about where we’re headed. We still know there is a lot of work to be done around not just the Black music community, but all the communities to make sure we’re completely reflective of all the different genres and people who make up our membership, and make up all the different types of music that we represent.”

Honoring those who come from diverse backgrounds gives these artists a strong signal boost – and though awards show representation doesn’t solve the racial inequities wrought by society, it tells fans from these communities that people who look like them, sound like them and love like them matter.

What the Grammys did right in terms of diversity: Beyoncé, H.E.R. nominations

The Black Lives Matter movement certainly played a role in this year’s nominations, with Beyoncé’s “Black Parade,” which came out on Juneteenth and benefited Black businesses, scoring nods for both record of the year and song of the year. “I Can’t Breathe,” a searing song about systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S., from H.E.R., also landed a song of the year nomination.

The major categories of record of the year, song of the year and best new artist honor Black and female musicians – though whether they will walk away with wins remains to be seen.

Beyoncé has won 24 Grammys, though memorably lost album of the year in 2017 for “Lemonade” to Adele’s “25.” The loss for “Lemonade,” an album specifically celebrating Black women, proved controversial. Adele even honored Beyoncé in her speech. Artists of color like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar have lost to white artists like Beck and Taylor Swift in recent years.

Justin Bieber, meanwhile, scored a nomination for best pop vocal album, though he insisted on Instagram that it was an R&B album. “I am very meticulous and intentional about my music,” he wrote. “Changes was and is an R&B album.”

Hip-hop artist Zé Taylor responded on Twitter: “Now you see how black artists feel when they make POP music and get shoved into ‘urban’ categories”.

Elsewhere, women in country music and rock had a strong showing. Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert and Ingrid Andress scored best country album nominations; Andress is also nominated for best new artist. The best rock performance category includes all-female nominees.

What the Grammys got wrong in terms of diversity

A closer look at the Recording Academy’s new class suggests that while inclusive, it may not be inclusive enough – which the academy acknowledges. Through that lens, this year’s nominations should not come as much of a surprise. Half of the inductees are white; 21% are African-American or of African descent; 8% are hispanic; and only 3% are Asian American/Pacific Islander/Asian (5% are “other” and 13% did not disclose their race).

“We’ve done a lot of things internally,” Mason said. This includes hiring a diversity and inclusion officer and starting the Black Music Collective, made up of Black music creators and executives “brought together in a wing of the Academy to advise us and to give us the information and insight about what needs to be done to make sure we’re representing Black people and Black music properly within our membership, within our awards, on our show and across the industry,” Mason added.

Nicki Minaj was quick to remind Twitter on Tuesday that she lost best new artist when she was nominated. “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver,” Minaj wrote of the 2012 ceremony. 

Sean “Diddy” Combs, winner of the Industry Icon award at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy Gala before last year’s ceremony, challenged the industry to get its act together in the next year when it comes to diversity.

His call to action and efforts from the Recording Academydid not improve the album of the year nominations.

Album of the year is glaringly not inclusive, with only two out of the eight nominations for Black artists (Jhené Aiko is also Japanese, Dominican, and Native American.) Nominee Jacob Collier is part-Chinese.

No K-Pop groups broke into any of the major categories, and it’s clear more artists of color or of other marginalized communities could have filled more slots across major categories.

Who would we have liked to see, or see more of? K-pop group BTS – which has an enormous and vocal fan base – only has one nomination for best pop duo/group performance for “Dynamite” (though fans and the group themselves were ecstatic on social media for the nod) . Colombian singer J Balvin also has only one nomination in the same category as BTS. 

“We would like to be nominated and possibly get an award,” RM of BTS told Esquire; the group has had one other nomination previously for best recording package. “I think the Grammys are the last part, like the final part of the whole American journey.”

K-pop groups Blackpink and SuperM – both eligible for best new artist, according to Billboard – did not earn any nods.

Lady Gaga, who is bisexual, failed to secure major awards attention for album “Chromatica” with only a nod for best pop vocal album and one for her performance of “Rain on Me” with Ariana Grande.

Run the Jewels and charts-topper The Weeknd were shut out. Run the Jewels rappers Killer Mike and El-P wrote and recorded “RTJ4” prior to the summer’s George Floyd protests, but their lyrics about police brutality and systemic racism matched what the country needed to hear.

SOURCE: usatoday.com
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: DISNEY+

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