‘Jubilee,’ a community collaboration of African American music and dance

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MONTCLAIR, NJ — As part of Montclair Early Music’s mission to bring history to life through music, MEM is presenting “Jubilee,” an interdisciplinary program that traces the history of African American music and dance from Africa to Colonial times to the present. Isaac Watts introduced European hymns to the enslaved population. In turn, they incorporated African rhythms, which evolved into call-and-response spirituals, and later into blues, ragtime and jazz. 

“Jubilee” will be presented Sunday, June 26, at 3 p.m. at the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave., Montclair.

“MEM has traditionally concentrated on music of the past,” event organizer Julienne Pape said. To complete the story, MEM has invited other groups to add their expertise. 

The program will begin with music and dance of West Africa by Montclair State University’s African Dance and Drum Ensemble. According to MSU professor Robert Levin, “Traditional West African music always involves drumming, singing and dancing. You feel the strong pulse implied by rhythms and synchronized heartbeats to become one organism, a community.”

Roosevelt Credit, a bass/baritone who sings with the Metropolitan Opera, will solo an early American hymn in “lining out” style, the way it was probably sung after being introduced to the enslaved population. He will solo a famous call-and-response spiritual and invite audience participation. Professional singers Lori Engle, Michelle Jennings, Elsa Larsson and Matthew Boaten will join in the response.

Larsson will sing blues songs arranged by African American composers William Grant Still and Beesley Smith. She has sung with the Greg Smith Singers, the NJ Masterworks Chorus and others.

The highlight of the program will be Emily O’Brien, a virtuoso recorder player from Boston. O’Brien will perform three compositions by African American composer Melika Fitzhugh on different-sized recorders; the third piece, “Oracle,” will be accompanied by the Montclair APEX Ensemble. 

“I guarantee you have never heard the recorder played this way,” MEM music director Sandy Meltzer said. 

Dance is an integral part of the black cultural experience. The lindy hop was created by the African American community in Harlem in the late ’20s. Professional dancers Nisreen Almazouni and Jim Geyer will dance to “All Blues,” played by the Jazz House Kids, who will also play a rendition of “There Will Never Be Another You.”

Kyla Gilmore and Skye Hall from “School of Rock” will perform, as well.

The finale will feature members of MEM’s children’s recorder program — Lyle Harmon, Maya Herrera-Shimokawa, Kimaya Sayles and Avi Webber — who recently performed at the internationally acclaimed Boston Early Music Festival. 

Admission to the event includes admission to the museum’s current exhibit featuring Jerry Pinkney, one of America’s most renowned illustrators of children’s books that honor black heritage. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.montclairartmuseum.org/jubilee.

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