Met Opera offers a ‘Porgy’ of its time that speaks to ours

Classical music critic

September 24 at 7:42 AM

The energy that crackled from the stage on Monday night was enough to douse any lingering sense of cynicism. The Metropolitan Opera, waking up like the rest of the field to the belated realization that lily-whiteness is not a great look for an arts organization, opened its season with “Porgy and Bess,” an opera that had not been done at the house since 1990.

The company gave more lip service to its embrace of diversity with the announcement that it has commissioned its first opera by a black composer (Terence Blanchard; date not yet announced), and with an exhibition and audio recording called “Black Voices at the Met.” Whatever you think about the Met’s sudden bid for a social conscience, giving more space to black artists is a good thing, from both a moral and artistic standpoint. And this “Porgy” was one of the company’s more dynamic opening nights in some time.

Like so many other operas, “Porgy” is dated: written by white men and rife with the stereotypes of its time. It attempts to present a broad canvas informed by social realism, a kind of pageant depicting black life in the South in the first part of the 20th century. James Robinson’s production, which opened at English National Opera last year, embraced the period, presenting a stage thick with intertwined bodies in dingy clothes in tableaux reminiscent of American paintings of the 1920s and 1930s (Reginald Marsh came to mind), framed by the skeletal houses of Michael Yeargan’s restlessly rotating set. Amid the packed crowdscapes, the herky-jerky jittering of the handful of dancers in Camille A. Brown’s choreography struck a deliberately jangly note, a cartoonish evocation of religious fervor.

But it was the vividness of the characterizations and the singing, through to the special chorus hired for the occasion (because the Met’s regular chorus is not all-black by a long shot), that made the evening. “Porgy and Bess” calls for a huge cast and an eye to detail, and a group of gifted singing artists brought the characters to life with dignity rather than shtick or condescension.

It’s a treat to emerge from an opera filled with excitement about so many good singers. Soprano Latonia Moore poured heart and passion and radiant voice into the role of Serena, who keens over her murdered husband. Denyce Graves, the veteran star mezzo, made Maria a credible tough broad rather than an archetypal matriarch, wielding her voice like a sword. Ryan Speedo Green brought his warm mellifluous bass to a loving characterization of Jake, family man and dad to a new baby, and husband of Clara, who as sung by Golda Schultz was less sheerly beautiful of voice and more believable as a person than I’ve often seen her. Alfred Walker was genuinely scary, and vocally powerful, as the out-of-control Crown.

Two other standouts were alumni of the Washington National Opera’s young-artist program. Tenor Frederick Ballentine made his Met debut as Sportin’ Life, sinuously sinister despite his ingratiating mien, less the clown than he is sometimes played, and with a vocal authority that made it sound as if he had commanded this huge stage for years. And soprano Leah Hawkins, currently a member of the Met’s Lindemann program, made a small piece of performance art out of the cameo role of a fruit seller, the Strawberry Woman.

Eric Owens and Angel Blue, at the heart of all this, were a respectable Porgy and Bess — almost too respectable. Owens has taken on Porgy a number of times in his career, despite the fact that the role lies a little high for his deep bass-baritone voice. He is singing very well these days, but the higher phrases still do not ring out in his voice the way they are meant to; “I got plenty o’ nuttin’ ” was one aria that slightly paled because of that. He was an earnest, stalwart lover to Blue’s vulnerable Bess. Tall and imposing, Blue played a character so wounded and so fundamentally decent that her addictions (to drugs, to men) were a little hard to credit; this was a Bess without bad-girl fire, although pouring out great arcs of sound.

One welcome sign of the times is that there is no longer any real point to questioning whether this work is opera or musical, or “belongs” in an opera house; like so many other problematic canonical works, it has taken its place at the table. (It will return to the Washington National Opera this spring.) The Met orchestra musicians, under the dynamic David Robertson, had no problem tapping into the less “classical” aspects of the jazz-inflected score, without sounding awkward.

At the start of the evening, the jolt of energy from the stage sparked a sense of poignancy, a reminder of how, for many years, this work was one of the only outlets for black vocal talent. But in this production, all the leads except Ballentine had sung other leading roles at the Met, helping the all-black cast to signal not limitation, but liberation, in a warmly received evening.

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Russell Tovey: ‘Art is for everyone. It will change you, it will outlive you’

Cor, Russell Tovey’s apartment is gorgeous! A New York-style warehouse-style place, with wooden floors, big windows at front and back, two light-filled bedrooms and enough space in the living-dining-hanging-out area for an army of cool cats to swing. But it’s not the flat itself that dazzles, fabulous though it is. It’s the art.

As soon as you walk in, you notice it. On every wall there are canvases – huge, brightly coloured abstracts, delicate etchings, cartoon-like figures in spray paint and oils. Sculptures nestle in alcoves or stand proud on tables. One piece – a chair in the guest bedroom by Jessi Reaves – is only recognisable as art because it’s so tatty when compared to the rest of the furnishings. (“Most of my friends hate that one,” Tovey laughs. “They think it looks like it was found in a skip.”) How much art does he own? He counts up in his head: “About 250 pieces,” he says. A lot of it is in storage.

Well known as an actor – one of the original History Boys, Being Human and most recently, the amazing Years and Years– Tovey has another, less-documented life. He is an absolute, stone-cold art buff: a self-taught specialist, a taste-making collector, an art “geek”. Geek is the word he usually uses about himself when on Talk Art, the podcast he hosts with gallery director Robert Diament; though he could equally call himself an enthusiast. He adores contemporary art, and his passion, over the years, has led him to expertise. He hosts special in-house tours in his apartment for high-up people such as patrons of the Royal Academy and is a guest curator for Margate NOW, an art festival created to celebrate this year’s Turner prize being held in the town.

From 28 September until 13 October Margate is being taken over by art: as well as the Turner prize, there will be performances and screenings, pieces placed in unexpected places, work that only lasts a few days, and other works that have been months in the making. Five hundred artists and performers making more than 60 events in total, most involving Margate citizens. Yuri Suzuki, a local artist, has created 12 horns representing 12 sections of Kent that will broadcast songs and tales sung and told by locals. Open School East has been busy working with Margate kids, as has 1927, a theatre company. Tovey – who recently bought a flat in Margate – is excited. “Culture automatically raises the status of a place and raises its quality,” he says. “And culture is something that brings people together. That’s the whole point, because it’s about humans communicating with other humans about what it is to be alive.”

I am interested in all this of course but I am far more intrigued by Tovey’s flat. Can we look around? Tovey gives me an info-packed tour. It’s noticeable that he mostly chooses to highlight the female artists in his collection. The first piece he ever bought, with his cheque from the film version of The History Boys, was a Tracey Emin etching, and he has always made a point of buying women’s art: Phyllida Barlow, Rebecca Warren, Rose Wylie, who he worships. He has a lot by older artists, including the 90-year-old Venezuelan Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, who works in Venice, California; Carmen Herrera, who is 104; Etel Adnan, from Beirut, in her 90s. He likes supporting female artists because he feels they have a tougher time than their male counterparts.

Orlando by Toyin Ojih Odutola

Orlando by Toyin Ojih Odutola Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

We spend some time admiring a gorgeous work by African American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, who, says Tovey, “creates this fantasy of these fantastical Nigerian families in images that you would normally see in white depictions of royal families. And these families have been joined by their gay sons. So it’s really imagining something that probably is never possible in Nigeria, but every one of these characters has their own story and their own place within these families.”

He has a couple of Joyce Pensatos on display. A few months ago, he and Diament interviewed Pensato, maker of scary-drip versions of classic cartoon figures and comic book heroes. She died of pancreatic cancer in June, aged 77. Tovey had collected her art for a while, and they’d become friends: she requested that her last interview be for Tovey’s podcast.

In just over a year, they’ve made 30-plus Talk Art programmes including lively interviews with artists – Ryan Gander and Rose Wylie – or art-friendly people (often actors) such as Zawe Ashton and Lena Dunham, and art world heavyweights – the Serpentine’s Hans Ulrich Obrist, gallery owner Sadie Coles and the director of Turner Contemporary, Victoria Pomery. The podcasts are gossipy and fun, engaging and well researched. The point, says Tovey, is to make a podcast about serious art that is approachable, that anyone can listen to.

Tour done, we settle down for a chat at Tovey’s big kitchen table. As we talk, I am struck by how different he is to most actors I’ve met. Not only because of his passion for art, but because of his steady self-confidence. Most actors are insecure (understandable, given their profession), and deliberately sparkle for interviewers. Tovey is charming, friendly company, but he’s also robust. Not desperate to make me like him (though I do). The main feeling I get from him is determination.

I tell him he seems like the kind of person that has an idea and then absolutely commits to following it through. “I am,” he says. “My mum says that I’m blinkered, and if I want something I get it. I think it comes from enthusiasm and I’ve never apologised for being enthusiastic. When I want to know about something – ie art – I want to know everything. I have to know everything about it.”

When he was a kid, growing up in Billericay and Romford, Essex, Tovey used to collect stuff. Rocks, minerals, fossils, coins, stamps, phone cards. One day he realised he had to streamline his life, so he got rid: sold his coins to one of the coin shops opposite the British Museum, put the phone cards on eBay. He was good at art himself – he still draws, mostly cute cartoons of himself for his boyfriend, Steve Brockman, or of their three dogs – and he was “visually stimulated” as a child, buying comics featuring Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, Rocko’s Modern Life, and watching Rugrats. It wasn’t such a big leap from those to Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Mel Ramos, Patrick Caulfield. But the big “aha” moment was when he went to see the YBA Sensation show, in 1997, when he’d just turned 16 (he’s nearly 38 now). “It blew my mind,” he says. “It felt like something had shifted. People say, ooh, the swinging 60s, and I’m always like: ‘OK, cool’… Sensation was my Woodstock moment.”

He went back home in a daze, and, when required by his sixth form college, Barking College, to make a speech as part of an assignment, he did one about the importance of contemporary art. He got a pig’s ear from a pet shop and put it in a tank of water to explain Damien Hirst (he called it Sow Memory). He found a bit of glass and passed it round his class, asking everyone what it made them think of. “That was my Duchamp, my ready-made.” He got a distinction. “But that was the only award I got. They chucked me out after a year.”

They chucked him out because he didn’t take up a role in the college play; having been working as an actor since he was 11, he’d landed some paid work and did that instead. Soon after, he started at the National Theatre, and got a life-changing part in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. He made friends with Emin when the play was up for a South Bank award. At the party afterwards, they got on so well that she subsequently asked him to be her plus one at various dos. “It was during her miaowing phase,” he recalls. Now Emin has moved into her imperial era, they remain excellent friends.

Tovey with T’Nia Miller in Years and Years.

Tovey with T’Nia Miller in Years and Years. Photograph: BBC/Red Productions/Guy Farrow

In fact, she gave him a discount on that first ever art purchase; he got together the money but was then shocked that he had to find 17.5% more (the VAT rate back then). Now, he’s savvy enough to buy much of his art in the US, so he only pays 5% import tax, as opposed to 20% VAT. He started buying work over there when he was cast in a big HBO series, Looking, in 2013, and in later US-based series such as Quantico.

How does he find the art he likes? Initially, he says, he used art advisers; but not for long. Advisers are usually there to find the work that will make the buyer the most money, and that’s not why Tovey is buying art. He wants to support emerging artists, to look after work he considers important. He has ideals. “Contemporary art, especially, is all about the moment. The artist is trying to tell their story. So I feel like if you buy art, you’re part of the dialogue about history, and you’re contributing a little bit, by looking after it, to all these stories that are going to live for ever. Art is for everyone and outlives you.”

So now he finds the art himself. If he sees something he likes in a gallery, he will email: “I always say, I’m a London-based actor and collector, because some artists like being collected by an actor.” He occasionally buys in auctions: “I love it. But if you don’t win, you do feel like you’re being told off by the gavel.” And he uses social media.

“The magic of Instagram,” he says. “With emerging artists, if you post a picture of their work or you comment on it, if you ‘at’ them, they normally contact you. Or you can direct message them and be like: ‘Hey!’ I’ve done this so many times where I’ve been in the States. I say: ‘Where are you?’ And they’re like: ‘In Brooklyn’, and I say: ‘Can I come do a studio visit?’”

A visitor poses with artist Joyce Pensato’s Mickey for Micky at the 2014 Frieze Fair in London.

A visitor poses with artist Joyce Pensato’s Mickey for Micky at the 2014 Frieze Fair in London. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

He understands and cultivates his own taste: “I oscillate between figurative, cartoony abstraction and geometric abstractions.” (Is there anything he doesn’t like? He thinks: “Gerhard Richter’s squidgy paintings. I just fucking hate them. They make me really angry. I think they’re shit.”)

These days, friends ask him to be their art advisers. James Corden, another of the first History Boys, has been in touch, asking for advice: “James messaged me the other day, and I’ve got him buying work. He’s got loads of money now, so he’s like: ‘What should I do?’ I’m like, ‘Buy art!’ So he’s running stuff by me and I’m like: ‘No, don’t do that, how about this?’”

When he’s not working, Tovey’s researching art, disappearing into internet wormholes. It’s how he relaxes. He re-educates himself constantly. He used to have a problem with video and sound-based work, partly because he looked at art as a collector. But now he’s into it. “My medium of choice has always been painting, works on paper and sculpture. I saw video and sound art as not so important. But now I’m like, “No.” Because it’s all about connecting and experience. And being immersive. And what’s more immersive than that?”

Can he understand that some people find art difficult? “Yes,” he says. “But you just have not to be intimidated by it. Go to a museum, you’re going to see a thousand works of art. And if you find one you like and spend time in front of it, on some low level, molecularly, it will change you. That moment of culture.”

He gets cross about bad art, as he does about all bad culture. He has a little rant about rubbish plays: “Imagine someone going to see a play for the first time, and they’ve saved up their money, and they get dressed up, and they get a train to London. And they have lunch before, all excited… and it’s crap. And afterwards, they don’t want to badmouth the play, they just assume that because they saw it on stage, it’s got to be good. But fundamentally, inside them, they know it’s not. That makes me sad.”

Tovey with Jamie Parker in The History Boys at the National Theatre in 2004.

Tovey with Jamie Parker in The History Boys at the National Theatre in 2004. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

This leads us, naturally, to his acting career. Tovey has a film to promote. The Good Liar, out on 8 November, stars Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren and is “a con-rom romcom”. Tovey plays Mirren’s son and he loved doing the film, adored Mirren (he calls her Dame Heaven Mirren) and the director Bill Condon. He’s quite proud because it’s a big film, “my first proper one”. I think of him as thoroughly established, but he still feels he’s known more for his TV and theatre work than the “culty” films he’s been in, such as The History Boys and The Pass. This seems, to him, to be a move into a bigger film world.

He works hard, and he moves easily between all his worlds: podcast host, theatre/TV/film actor, presenter, art collector and curator. He’s even written a TV comedy drama. “It’s easy to diversify now, you don’t have to stay in your lane. Like [singer] Jessie Ware, her podcast [Table Manners] has completely changed her life.” In all areas, he’s acquired devoted fans, some sweet (he tells me that he cried this morning over some fan art of his character in Years and Years, Daniel, and his boyfriend Victor), some rude (he gets sent dick pics via social media).

And what of the future? Long term, he has two art-style ambitions. He wants to get to a financial point where he can buy a little flat and support an emerging artist to come to London for three months and live rent-free. And he wants to have a foundation, a Tovey Foundation, which shows his collection in rotation. This would be in Margate or London, “anywhere, really. It could be in Essex, maybe Billericay, make it a destination.” “This art,” he says, “I own it but it isn’t mine. I feel like it’s everybody’s. I love sharing it. I do walks and talks around my flat like it’s a museum, and I love showing off to my friends… but that’s not enough. It’s for everyone, isn’t it?”

More short term, in previous interviews, he’s talked about wanting to have a baby before he’s 40. Next year, he’s going to be in New York for the whole year, rehearsing and performing in Joe Mantello’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, alongside Eddie Izzard, and he plans to use that time to set some baby wheels in motion. “I’ll really be putting the feelers out on how we’re going to make this work,” he says. I’m so sure that he will make it happen that I offer congratulations. “Thanks,” he laughs. “It’s not happened yet!”

Where does his confidence come from? His parents, he says, always told him he could do anything, and he’s worked hard to take advantage of his opportunities. He’s had therapy when he has felt he needed to and he has followed his passions. He tells his young relatives to work out what they want to do, and pursue that with energy. He told his nephew the other day that if he wanted to go to art school, he would pay for it, “and I shook his hand”.

I feel like cheering. What a positive force Russell Tovey is.

“The thing is though, I’m getting the opportunity,” he says. “It’s like when people say to me: ‘God, you work hard.’ If you’re getting the opportunity to do or have something you love, then you’re going to work hard, aren’t you, because work is more fun than fun. Because there’s people who don’t know what they want to do, or they build walls to stop themselves doing what they want to do. And that’s awful. Isn’t it the best gift to know what you want to do with your life?”

Margate NOW runs from 28 Sep–13 Oct. The Turner prize is at Turner Contemporary, Margate, 28 Sep–12 Jan 2020

Five of Russell Tovey’s favourite artists

The Lands Part (yellow, blue and green), 2017.

The Lands Part (yellow, blue and green), 2017. Photograph: Kerry Ryan McFate/Loie Holowell, courtesy Pace Gallery

Loie Hollowell
Minnesota-born Hollowell’s brightly coloured, almost abstract female bodies glow on the wall. Because she produces relatively few paintings, taking around three months on each, there are few for sale and they are in huge demand.

Black and White Mickey, 2018.

Black and White Mickey, 2018. Photograph: Joyce Pensato; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Joyce Pensato
Pensato, who died earlier this year aged 77, came to success late, beginning her wild, funny, scary punk cartoons in the 90s. “I like being messy and I love throwing paint around and fucking it all up,” she once said.

Donald Duck, 2015.

Donald Duck, 2015. Photograph: Courtesy the artist and South Willard, Los Angeles

Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Born in Venezuela, 90-year-old Suarez has worked with sculptor Michael Frimkess, her husband, in California since 1963. He throws pots and she glazes them with an intricate mix of cartoons, slogans, snapshots, flowers and more.

Nite Lite, 2013.

Nite Lite, 2013. Photograph: David Shelton Gallery, Houston, Texas

Jamian Juliano-Villani
Juliano-Villani, from New Jersey, describes her hyper-real, dreamlike paintings as “car accidents”: there’s something uncomfortable about them, but you can’t stop looking.

Newlyweds on Holiday (2016).

Newlyweds on Holiday (2016). Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York/Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Toyin Ojih Odutola
Nigerian-born, US-based Ojih Odutola imagines a world where black people hold the power. Her virtuoso technique and bright palette make for beautiful drawings. MS

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African American Chamber: Potts Center has ‘failed’

LIMA — In a press release sent out Sunday, Lima’s African American Chamber of Commerce has labeled the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s Walter C. Potts Entrepreneur Center a “failed experiment” for allegedly “ignoring the concerns of the African American business community.”

“Far too many Lima residents, especially African Americans, feel deeply insecure about the prospects of the future. With over $500 million in projected construction projects coming to the Lima area, the need is urgent for the community to abandon this failed experiment. We need a new vision and a new approach,” the release states.

The two-page document details the lack of minority-owned businesses in the community since the Potts Center began in 2006 and objects to the center’s inability to move the needle in subsequent years.

“We applaud the efforts of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce and its leadership over the years, but question the need to continue to invest in a failed initiative like the Walter Potts Center,” the release states.

In a written response, the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce laid out the programs associated with the Potts Center, including the ongoing small business entrepreneur series, its subsequent pitch competition, the in-development entrepreneur academy, the formation of the Independent Small Business Coalition and the success of the Potts Center’s fundraising arm, the Community Enrichment Dinner, as proof of the center’s effectiveness.

According to a community economic impact report released by the Potts Center earlier this year, the Community Enrichment Dinner has raised $500,000 since its inception. At least $135,285 of those dollars have been used to support operations of the center, and the rest of those dollars have been used in the Potts Center’s community impact projects.

The same release estimates that “75 small and minority businesses were helped with assistance services in partnership with the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College and the State of Ohio Minority Business Assistance Center” in 2018.

“We are very proud of what has been accomplished throughout the years in partnership with the Walter C. Potts Entrepreneur and Training Center and are looking forward to opportunities to assist in further growth and development of the small and minority businesses through the Walter C. Potts Entrepreneur and Training Center,” the Lima/Allen County chamber’s release states.

The African American Chamber of Commerce contends those numbers.

“Local African American business owners have routinely expressed never having received any direct services from the Walter Potts Center, and have regularly been referred to calling Toledo for technical support/guidance,” the release states. “We know that access — to both startup capital and professional networks — is the major driver of lower rates of entrepreneurship among Americans of color.”

The African American Chamber of Commerce also asked that the Potts Center take a number of actions to prove their effectiveness. The group requests that the center clarifies how Community Enrichment Dinner funds are used, conducts an audit of its financial records, provides a list of the businesses that have been helped and holds a public board meeting to give the community a chance to express any concerns.

All three documents — the African American Chamber of Commerce’s press release, the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s response and a community economic impact report released by the Potts Center earlier this year — can be read online at

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Hammonds House Honors celebrate excellence in Black art

Hammonds House Honors Celebrates and Recognizes Excellence in Black Visual Art at Southwest Arts Center on September 12

 Hammonds House Museum presents Hammonds House Honors, an evening of celebration and recognition of excellence in Black visual art. In the inaugural year iconoclast photographer Roy DeCarava is remembered on the 100th Anniversary of his birth, and seven individuals who elevate the visual art of the African Diaspora through their passion, creativity and commitment to artistic and cultural excellence will be honored.

“We are excited about Hammonds House Honors,” states Leatrice Ellzy, Executive Director of Hammonds House Museum. “It’s a signature event that perfectly aligns with our mission and enables us to elevate black visual culture. Equally important, the event provides us with a rare opportunity to recognize and celebrate the artists, curators, arts professionals and donors who drive the cultural ecosystem with rigor and intention. The proceeds from Hammonds House Honors will help us continue to present the great art, thought-provoking public programs, and cultural and educational programming our audiences expect.”

The evening will kick off with a cocktail reception at 6:15 pm, followed by a glamorous award show at 7:30 PM. Monica Pearson will serve as host. In keeping with the spirit of this artistic occasion, dress will be artistically chic. The 2019 Hammonds House Honors will take place on September 12 at Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road SW, Atlanta, GA 30331. Tickets are available at

Here are the seven categories for this year’s Hammonds House Honors and awards criteria. Honorees for the Lifetime Achievement Award and O.T. Hammonds Philanthropy in the Arts Award were selected in advance, but honorees in the other five categories will be announced during the award show.

Emerging Artist Award: Presented to an emerging talent who has achieved notable accomplishments while still early in their career.

  • Adrianna Kaya Clark
  • Travis Love
  • Zora Murff
  • Stacy Lynn Waddell

Creators Award: Presented to an artist who creates at the intersection of pop culture and the remix. They create or present visual imagery through non-traditional avenues, are commercially viable, and introduce new generations to Black visual art.

  • Miya Bailey
  • Chilly-O
  • Melissa Mitchell
  • Toni Williams
  • Dubelyoo Wright

Artistic Excellence Award: Awarded to an artist whose creative and superior accomplishments in the arts have elevated Black visual arts, improved the cultural vitality of the form, and have had a profound and lasting effect on the culture.

  • Sheila Pree Bright
  • Jerushia Graham
  • Lonnie Holley

Curatorial Excellence Award: Awarded to a curator who animates public discourse, offers innovative approaches in the presentation of art, elevates public understanding and advances the field through their work. This individual may be with an institution or independent.

  • Gia Hamilton
  • Faron Manuel
  • Jamaal Sheats

Spriggs-Fuller Award for Arts Leadership: The award recognizes individuals or organizations who enhance and strengthen the cultural community by curating, producing, exhibiting and advocating for artistic excellence in black visual art. This award is named in honor of Ed Spriggs, Founder and first Executive Director of Hammonds House Museum and Myrna Fuller, Executive Director of Hammonds House Museum from 2004-2017.

  • Jontyle Theresa Robinson, Ph.D.
  • Mary Schmidt-Campbell
  • Franklin Sirmans

Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree: Tina M. Dunkley

Presented to a nationally recognized and established artist, curator, arts professional or scholar with a lifetime of exemplary artistic accomplishment and significant contribution to the field.

 O.T. Hammonds Philanthropy in the Arts Award Honoree: Vicki and John Palmer

Presented to an individual, family or collective with a demonstrable history of philanthropic giving or patronage to visual arts institutions, artists or independent projects.

The evening will kick off with a cocktail reception at 6:15 pm, followed by a glamorous award show at 7:30 PM. Monica Pearson will serve as host. In keeping with the spirit of this artistic occasion, dress will be artistically chic. The 2019 Hammonds House Honors will take place on September 12 at Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road SW, Atlanta, GA 30331. Tickets are available at

 About Hammonds House Museum

Hammonds House Museum’s mission is to preserve, exhibit, interpret and increase public awareness about the contributions that visual artists of African descent have made to world culture. Artistic excellence, culture and community are the focus of their vision.

Located in a beautiful Victorian home in Atlanta’s historic West End, Hammonds House Museum is a unique setting to explore the cultural diversity and legacy of artists of African descent. The museum is the former residence of the late Dr. Otis Thrash Hammondsa prominent Atlanta physician and a passionate arts patron. A 501(c)3 organization which opened in 1988, Hammonds House Museum boasts a permanent collection of more than 350 works including art by Romare Bearden, Robert S. Duncanson, Benny Andrews, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Hale Woodruff, Amalia Amaki, Radcliffe Bailey and Kojo Griffin. In addition to featuring art from their collection, the museum offers new exhibitions, artist talks, workshops, concerts, monthly poetry readings, arts education programs, and other cultural events throughout the year.

Hammonds House Museum is generously supported by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Fulton County Department of Arts & Culture, City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition, Georgia-Pacific, National Performance Network, Visual Artists Network, Wells Fargo, and the Lubo Fund.

For more information, and to find out how you can get involved, visit

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The Best Things to Do in St. Louis This Week, September 19 to 23

click to enlarge They're back. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI

  • Danny Wicentowski
  • They’re back.

It seems like a quick turnaround (because it is), but the St. Louis Blues are back on the ice this weekend. (Preseason hockey is better than off-season.) There are also balloon races, book festivals and bacon. It’s a heck of a week.

1. All Shapes
The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection of abstract art officially went on display Tuesday, September 17, at the Saint Louis Art Museum (1 Fine Arts Drive; The collection was gifted to the museum in 2017 by New Jersey-based art collector Ronald Maurice Ollie and his wife, Monique McRipley Ollie, in honor of Ronald’s parents. The elder Ollies often visited the Saint Louis Art Museum with their children, instilling a lifelong passion for art. Ronald and Monique Ollie together collected art for many years, particularly work by contemporary black artists. Among the treasures in the exhibit, The Shape Of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection, are important works such as Robert Blackburn’s lithograph Faux Pas, Mary Lovelace O’Neal’s City Lights and Frank Bowling’s Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue, which demonstrates Bowling’s innovative painting technique. In all, 40 works are displayed in the show, which draws its title from a poem by Quincy Troupe. The St. Louis native was inspired by the artworks in the Ollie Collection and wrote “The Shape of Abstraction; for Ron Ollie” in response. Troupe’s poem is included in the exhibit catalog.

click to enlarge Herbert Gentry, American, 1919–2003; Today, 1987; screenprint; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 140:2017; © Estate of Herbert Gentry

  • Herbert Gentry, American, 1919–2003; Today, 1987; screenprint; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 140:2017; © Estate of Herbert Gentry

2. Alone at Last
It’s been a long time since Jan and her husband, Adam, have had the place to themselves. Between their son, their jobs and the distractions of everyday life, the couple haven’t spent an evening at home together — just the two of them — in years. What will they do to pass the time? Adam has an idea, but Jan isn’t on board. This is one of many rifts they must cross in Michael Weller’s Fifty Words. Can a long-married couple talk about anything other than their annoyances and disappointments with their respective partner, or has the marriage soured so thoroughly? St. Louis Actors’ Studio opens its thirteenth season with the drama Fifty Words. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (September 20 to October 6) at the Gaslight Theater (358 North Boyle Avenue; Tickets are $30 to $35. 

click to enlarge Jan and Adam (Julie Layton and Isaiah Di Lorenzo) have the house to themselves, but may need an adult to step in. - COURTESY STLAS

  • Jan and Adam (Julie Layton and Isaiah Di Lorenzo) have the house to themselves, but may need an adult to step in.

3. Books, Mark It
Technically, the 2019 edition of BookFest St. Louis starts at 7 p.m. Friday, September 20, with a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” at the Mahler Ballroom (4915 Washington Boulevard) to celebrate the American poet’s bicentennial. To put that in literary terms, it’s the equivalent of the introduction. The actual plot of BookFest kicks off at at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, September 21, and concludes at 8:30 p.m. In between are a children’s storytime, presentations on young adult fiction, literature, poetry and a panel on writing for LGBTQIA teens. All of these sessions include multiple working authors, poets and authors discussing their works and books. Among the many participants are Elizabeth McCracken, Sonali Dev, John Hendrix, Aaron Coleman and Mary Engelbreit. BookFest St. Louis takes place at several locations in the Central West End, with the main tent set up near the intersection of Euclid and McPherson avenues ( Left Bank Books will be selling copies of everybody’s books, and authors will be available to sign copies after their presentations. Best of all, admission is free, which is very easy on any book budget.

4. Skypilots Ahoy
You’d better get up early if you want to get a good spot at the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, because seemingly everyone in the metro area attends. Alright, it’s actually only 150,000 people, but they’re all camped out on Forest Park’s ( Central Field well before noon. This year’s race features more than 70 balloons and pilots, who start their engines (gas burners?) at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 21. In the time leading up to that magic moment you can picnic in the park, or avail yourself of one of several food trucks that will be parked nearby. The children’s area opens at noon, with inflatables, games and Purina Pro Plan Performance Team’s very agile dogs. Admission is free.

5. A Salty Salute
The typical brunch menu makes you choose between the two stalwarts of breakfast: bacon and sausage. You can opt to pay extra and get both (that’s a pro-tip, Tex), or you can go to Bacon and Brunch Fest to load up on on the flashy choice. Salty, crispy bacon is the heart of this brunch extravaganza, which starts at 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 22, at Ballpark Village (601 Clark Avenue; Restaurants and food trucks, including Yolklore and Super Smokers BBQ, will be slinging strips all morning, and there’s even bacon in many of the cocktails. There will be non-bacon dining options as well, and proceeds go to CHAMP assistance dogs, which places service dogs with disabled people. Tickets are $10 to $250.

6. The Champs Return
The greatest sporting event of our lifetimes happened this past June, when the good and noble St. Louis Blues made Brad Marchand cry. On top of that joy, the Blues won hockey’s greatest prize, a feat that can only be exceeded by winning it again. That journey of a thousand bodychecks begins with preseason hockey, and the Blues’ first home game of the warmup season takes place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, September 22, at the Enterprise Center (1401 Clark Avenue; What’s left of the Columbus Bluejackets (the team lost both its starting goalie and offensive stud Artemi Panarin, among many other skaters, in the off season) are the afternoon’s opponents, but they’re the sideshow, really. Fans are showing up to see the champs, and it will never get old to say that. Tickets for the game are $11 to $275.

7. Will You Be There?
Because we live in strange times, there’s currently a revived interest in the 1990s. Is it the baggy, shapeless fashion that people miss? The grungy music? The comfort of knowing our horny, self-involved president was only screwing the interns and not the nation? Regardless, the ’90s are back and so is Friends. Netflix’s current most-watched show marks its 25th anniversary with a nationwide broadcast of its most popular and memorable episodes in movie theaters. Return to those thrilling (?) days of yesteryear as Monica Geller gets an unsought roommate, neurotic wiseacre Chandler Bing spends Thanksgiving in a wooden box and terminal asshat Ross Geller gets high, and so on and so on. Blocks of episodes are shown at 7 p.m. Monday, September 23; Saturday, September 28; and Wednesday, October 2 at select theaters including the AMC Creve Coeur 12 (10465 Olive Boulevard; Tickets are $13.56.

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Despite the Good Report of 130,000 Jobs, the Economy’s Pace Is Worrisome

The great American jobs are showing signs of cracks as the trade war with China intensify and a global slowdown of the economy. The Labor Department released employment data on Friday, displaying that the US job market witnessed the addition of 130,000 jobs in August. However, this number is below what the analysts had expected. This number would have been much lower been it not for the addition of 25,000 temporary census workers.

As per Jeff Cox, [Source (1)]

“The increase fell short of Wall Street estimates for 150,000, while the unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%, as expected. An alternative measure of the jobless rate, which includes discouraged and underemployed workers, increased to 7.2% from 7% in July, due mainly to a 397,000 increase in those working part-time for economic reasons.”

Despite the Good Report of 130,000 Jobs, the Economy's Pace Is Worrisome

As per Nelson D. Schwartz, [Source (2)]

“The figures show that the economy continues to add jobs but at a more modest pace as the trade war intensifies and global growth slows.”

The unemployment rate has remained stable at 3.7% and the economy has gained jobs for 107 consecutive months. Nonetheless, the pace of hiring has slowed drastically. The United States has added a monthly average of 223,000 jobs in 2018 while for 2019 it is only 158,000 this year.

On the bright side, the wages rose at a healthy clip at 3.2% over the past year, and people who had not been looking for work returned to the job market.

As per Anneken Tappe, [Source (3)]

“The African-American unemployment rate fell dramatically to 5.5% from 6%. That was a record low for the data, which have been collected since 1972. The decline was led by a sharp drop in the unemployment rate for black women.

Hispanic unemployment fell to 4.2% from 4.5%. The race-based unemployment rate is a sometimes volatile number.”

The deceleration was rather steep for the private sector as they added just 96,000 jobs, from earlier in the year.

Economy’s Weakness Is Discernible

Although the employment picture is solid on the whole, weaknesses are beginning to show. The movement in the bond market, new evidence of weaker growth in Asia and Europe and the trade war have mounted the worries about a potential recession. Adding to the worry is that the stimulus from the tax cut enacted in late 2017 is fading.

The direct impact of the trade war was noticed in the manufacturing sector causing a hiring uncertainty in sectors feeling the effects of tariffs. The US manufacturing sector has tapered for the first time in 3 years, restricting the number of jobs by 50%. In the last month, the sector accommodated only 3000 jobs, below expectations – half this year’s average of 6,000 and less than a quarter compared with the July figure. In 2018, manufacturing job growth recorded averaged 22,000 jobs per month.

Employment Standing In Different Industries

Based on the August jobs data recession is not imminent. The participation of the labor force, for example, has also increased, rising to 63.2% and tying its highest level since August 2013. This suggests that workers who had been on the side-lines are slowly being led back into the labor market.

As per Nelson D. Schwartz, [Source (2)]

“Our labor market is in quite a strong position,” the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said on Friday in Zurich. “Today’s labor market report is very much consistent with that story.”

The biggest advantages for August came from –

  • Professional and business services increased by 37,000
  • The federal government, added 28,000 workers in advance, for the 2020 population count
  • Health care contributed 24,000 to the total and
  • Financial services increased by 15,000

However, trade, transportation, and utilities had to forgo 11,000 jobs, and the mining and logging lost 5,000 positions.

Additionally, the total number of Americans, who are considered employed has gone up by 590,000 to a record of 157.9 million, according to the household survey, which is conducted separately from the headline establishment count. The ratio of Americans between the prime working ages of 25 and 54 who have a job hit 80% in August, which is the best showing in the current expansion.

Watching the Fed

The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark interest rates in July, by a quarter of a percentage point, for the first time in a decade. There are also rising expectations that the Fed will cut interest rates later this month, the second time this year by another quarter-point when policymakers meet on September 14th.

Although the report presented was weak and makes a case for a rate cut this month, some traders feel that it was not weak enough to suggest that the policymakers will go for a half-point reduction.

Source Links:

Source (1)
Source (2)
Source (3)

Black Women Taking on the Fight Against Diabetes

By Linda Goler Blount, MPH, President and CEO, Black Women’s Health Imperative 

The cost of insulin is skyrocketing and people—especially black women—are dying because they cannot afford or don’t have access to vital medication. 

There is not enough being done to lower the prices of prescription medications that could mean life or death for so many African Americans that depend on it to live. 

Over 30 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes—including nearly 13% of all non-Hispanic Black people. According to the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, and the majority of them are women. 

Many of those suffering from diabetes depend on insulin to regulate their blood sugar to remain healthy so that the food they eat does not threaten their lives. Instead of ensuring that people with diabetes can have access to this life-saving drug, some political leaders have put up road block after road block to make it harder for patients to receive care, despite bipartisan outrage by the excessively high cost of prescription drugs. 

This isn’t just bad politics: this is a life or death issue for working families across the country, and African Americans are disproportionately paying the price. 

Instead of focusing on lowering drug costs for all Americans, some lawmakers continue to attack the Affordable Care Act and its health care protections for those that have pre-existing conditions. While they do this, as many as one in four people skip insulin doses or ration prescriptions because of the rising cost. Sadly, some of these people are dying as a result—and many black women are specifically at risk. 

African Americans are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and unfortunately suffer fatalities from Type 2 diabetes at twice the rate of their white counterparts. Black people are overwhelmingly more likely to suffer from debilitating complications caused by diabetes such as amputations, blindness and kidney failure than their white counterparts. Due to lack of health resources in predominately African American communities, black people receive poorer quality care and get care later when the disease has progressed. 

The risk for getting Type 2 diabetes increases with age with the highest incidence occurring between 65-75 years old. This is precisely the point in life when income decreases. African American women are especially affected. They are likely to be care-givers and spend their hard-earned money on ensuring family members are healthy making access to insulin a greater challenge. 

The health and wellness of black women must be a top priority so we must take action. 

Recently, a coalition of health care, social justice and faith organizations launched “Affordable Insulin NOW,” a campaign demanding lower drug costs for those suffering from diabetes. 

Together, we are raising our voices, amplifying each other’s stories, building on-the-ground teams, and demanding our policymakers and pharmaceutical companies work together to provide access to high quality and affordable insulin. 

We need affordable insulin now. Too many lives depend on it. 

Linda Goler Blount, MPH, is President and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI). Linda oversees BWHI’s  strategic  direction and is responsible for directing the organization toward achieving its mission of leading efforts to solve the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the United States. 

Before joining BWHI, Linda served as the vice president of programmatic impact for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, where she led the effort to eliminate inequalities in health, income, education and housing through place- and populationbased work.  

‘Choir Boy’ Comes to Boston

Choir Boy, in its first post-Broadway production and New England premier, brings the hallowed halls of the fictional Charles R. Drew Prep School, an elite academy dedicated to instilling excellence in young black men, to Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston.

Written by the screenwriter of Oscar-winning movie Moonlight Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Choir Boy’s cast consists of mostly Boston-area students and alumni, many of whom are making their Speakeasy debut. A multi-dimensional coming-of-age story and an examination of black culture and the black church, Choir Boy is both entertaining and thought provoking, raising questions about what it means to be a black man.

The show follows Pharus Young (Isaiah Reynolds), an ambitious student who seeks to take the lead at the gospel choir, which is the pride of the school and, most importantly, a draw for donors to bring in the funding the school needs. Pharus, immensely talented, was voted almost unanimously to be the head of the choir as a senior.

Despite his unquestionable genius and love for music, Pharus finds trouble holding the leadership of the choir because he is very openly gay, which the nephew of Headmaster Marrow (J. Jerome Rogers) Bobby (Malik Mitchell) takes issue with.

Struggling to find a place in his school and in his community, Pharus can be both brazenly confidently—championing his flamboyance in defiance of the expectations to how he should behave—but painfully insecure, fully aware of his otherness in a community that already feels marginalized from the greater world. Through his interactions with the other boys at the school, including his roommate and best friend Anthony (Jaimar Brown)—a straight athlete who is always supportive despite not being able to fully understand—and David (Dwayne P. Mitchell)—a reserved, struggling student who wants to be a minister—Pharus tries to figure out the balance between being himself and fitting in.  

Choir Boy examines alienation and conflict within the black community, which is a thoughtful deviation from usual works that comment on race and the black experience that often place blackness in a white context. 

Far from being just a play about schoolboys, Choir Boy makes very potent commentary about the black experience as a whole. Bringing up themes such as the fixation with the past, Pharus makes a poignant argument about prioritizing the present and passing down feelings and emotions that people feel in the present, rather than endlessly guessing about a past that no one in the current day has experienced. 

The conflict between legacy and scholarship students comes into play, as the other students endlessly remind Bobby of his privilege—Bobbyconstantly forgets to call the headmaster by his title, usually calling him “Uncle Matt,” before correcting himself. Marrow is also caught in the conflict, both trying to ensure fairness in the school, but also pressured by his own biases toward his nephew.

Another interesting character is Mr. Pendleton (Richard Snee), a teacher coaxed out of retirement by Marrow. Pendleton is very noticeably the only white person in the cast, and he struggles to relate to the students. His good intentions cause conflict between him and his black students, who question his efforts to teach them about their own culture. Pendleton dedicated his life to civil rights, having walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but his despair highlights the distance between the races.

Choir Boy handles very grim subjects, yet the play is entertaining from beginning to end. Opening with a spirited step number, Choir Boy is filled with music and dancing, highlighting specifically black gospel music, while also venturing into slaves songs and important modern black artists like Boyz II Men. 

The cast boasts impressive vocal and dancing ability, with intricate step numbers executed to perfection. The cast members did not use microphones, relying on only the raw power of their voices to project into the audience, both giving an authentic performance and showing off their incredible vocal prowess. 
Although Choir Boy ends on a sad note, the cast did not let the audience leave the theater dejected. Springing a surprise onto delighted audience members, who were expecting bows, the entire cast broke into a fierce number to “Nails, Hip, Heels, Hair” by Todrick Hall, a queer, black artist who is a champion of the LGBTQ+ community, leaving the audience with a high-spirited conclusion and hopes for a future of inclusion and acceptance.

Image Courtesy of / SpeakEasy Stage Company

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Foo Fighters, The Killers and More Help Pilgrimage Get Back in the Groove

Pilgrimage2019The Killers4The KillersPhoto: Steve Cross

“Thank you so much for sticking with us, sticking with the festival,” Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival co-founder and Better Than Ezra frontman Kevin Griffin told the crowd assembled early Sunday afternoon, exactly a year removed from the storm that ultimately caused organizers to cancel the two-day Franklin music festival in 2018. “When the mud hit the fan, y’all were there.” 

At press time, it remained to be seen whether the turnout was enough to transcend last year’s debacle, to close the gap and go forward, but Pilgrimage delivered admirably Saturday and Sunday. Stadium-sized sets from first-night headliners The Killers and second-night headliners Foo Fighters put an exclamation point on a weekend’s worth of roots, rock and indie notables playing the 200-acre Park at Harlinsdale Farm

Pilgrimage2019Sat Kacey&Clayton22Kacy and ClaytonPhoto: Steve Cross

The breeze rippling through the seating area around the Shady Grove made it a downright pleasant place to be during the dry heat of Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, and despite the tech crew’s best efforts, it remains a real struggle for artists playing there to be heard when someone is playing on the bigger stages at the same time. Kacy and Clayton, second cousins from Saskatchewan who’ve expanded their folk duo into a quartet, made something of a positive impression despite this challenge. Singer Kacy Anderson’s resonant vocals and guitarist Clayton Linthicum’s wiry lead lines lend a slight Fairport Convention vibe to songs from their forthcoming LP Carrying On and a cover of Joe Ely’s “Silver City.” You’ve got two chances to see them in better circumstances, opening for Ray LaMontagne at the Ryman on Oct. 29-30.

The Harpeth River Stage is set up at one end of a walking-horse arena carved into the earth near the bank of the Harpeth River. Caroline Rose, in her bright-red stage gear, was a little reminiscent of a toreador as she squinted into the sun, sizing up the small crowd that mostly huddled in the shadow of the production booth. This marked the fifth time Rose has played in our area since the 2018 release of her LP LONER

Pilgrimage2019Sat Caroline Rose28Caroline RosePhoto: Steve Cross

Those who filled in the space along the front of the stage were treated to a top-tier performance from Rose and her well-seasoned New Wave-garage-punk band, as well as a new song slated for a forthcoming album. It was an actual new tune this time, not a fake-out into an Aerosmith cover like Rose pulled at Bonnaroo, and if it’s anything to go on, Rose’s next album will be even heavier on post-disco electronic dance elements. One song, of course, does not an album make, and part of the point of LONER was showcasing all the things that Rose’s songwriting can be. Onstage, she shifted naturally from hamming it up for the cameras to singing a poignant version of the LONER standout “Getting to Me” that illuminated a later comment: “It’s 2019, and if you don’t have some kind of depression or anxiety issue, I don’t trust you as a person.”

Pilgrimage2019Leon Bridges4Leon BridgesPhoto: Steve Cross

Over on the main Midnight Sun stage, Leon Bridges unassumingly took command of a powerhouse band that shifted shape with him as he worked with an array of different styles. As pointed out during his 2018 conversation with Scene contributor Edd Hurt, Bridges’ musical interests span a wide swath, and early in his set he worked in funk, electric blues and soul informed by ’80s sounds — the last including “Shy” from 2018’s Good Thing and a reworking of “Better Man,” which was recorded in a ’60s gospel-schooled soul style for his 2015 debut LP Coming Home. It feels like Bridges is still searching for his own personal sound, but while he’s seeking it out, he’s delivering dynamite performances.

Pilgrimage2019Keith Urban69Keith UrbanPhoto: Steve Cross

Country star Keith Urban had the golden-hour slot on the Gold Record Road Stage, the second-largest on the grounds. As has been observed many times, mainstream country artists of Urban’s ilk make music that sounds more like a slightly twangier version of arena rock circa 1988 than anything you’d immediately identify as country. Even so, Urban and his snare-tight band seemed to be genuinely having a great time, and it was a treat to watch. There were anthemic tunes like “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and a stripped-down acoustic take on Urban’s recent hit single “We Were.” 

The latter is both a genuinely affecting song about nostalgia — in part because it doesn’t advocate a retreat in the past — and an understated showcase for noted guitar-shredder Urban’s six-string skills. He also left a fan with a story to dine out on for years to come. As he’s been known to do sometimes, Urban ran down the catwalk ostensibly to autograph a fan’s poster (this one read “Help me win a bet! My husband doesn’t think you will see this.”) and instead took off his guitar, signed it and handed it to her.

As youngsters tossed Frisbees and cartwheeled around their dozing parents in the fading light, The Killers — arguably the best rock band ever from Las Vegas — took the stage. The screen behind them at Midnight Sun displayed a photo of The Cars’ frontman Ric Ocasek, who died Sept. 15 at age 75. Killers frontman Brandon Flowers greeted the crowd with an acknowledgement of how much his group and rockers of all kinds since the late ’70s owe to Ocasek & Co. for the way they drew New Wave from the periphery toward the center of pop. 

Pilgrimage2019The Killers15The KillersPhoto: Steve Cross

Flowers shouted “This night is for Ric!” as the band tore into a faithful cover of The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl.” It was a strong start to the night’s headlining set, which included perennial favorites “Somebody Told Me” and “Smile Like You Mean It,” and ended with the one-two punch of “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “When You Were Young.” The band began its encore with the 2008 single “Human,” the response to which seemed a bit lukewarm, but only in light of the signature hit that most folks probably expected, and which came right after to close the show: “Mr. Brightside,” their evergreen anthem to jealousy and regret.

Clinton-era alt-rock survivors were a through line of Sunday’s programming, along with second-generation acts. And there were plenty of cover songs — from Better Than Ezra following up an extended version of their ’96 hit “Desperately Wanting” with a campy cover of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” to R.E.M. acolytes Live inserting a faithful “Losing My Religion” into their set of angst-ridden relics from 1994’s eight-times-platinum Throwing Copper.

Pilgrimage2019Sun Justin Townes Earle12Justin Townes EarlePhoto: Steve Cross

On the distant but breezy Harpeth River Stage, Justin Townes Earle did The Replacements proud with a mean “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and served up thoughtful snapshots of marginalized America off his recent ninth LP The Saint of Lost Causes that reaffirmed his talent — independent of but still sharing a kinship with his dad, Steve Earle. It did seem a little weird to see the younger Earle, whose substance-abuse struggles are well-documented, play a stage sponsored by Solo Cup, a product synonymous with boozy frat parties. As he sang songs about incarcerated fathers and the degradation of the environment, an anthropomorphic red plastic cup walked around high-fiving people. 

Earle was the first in a trifecta of sons of famous musicians who are making great music on their own terms that played Sunday. Shooter Jennings (as you probably know, Waylon Jennings’ and Jessi Colter’s offspring) played the Shady Grove, and at the Gold Record Road, Willie Nelson’s progeny Lukas Nelson and and his band Promise of the Real delivered a soaring take on CSN&Y’s “Carry On.” In June, they released Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), their second LP since their attention-grabbing run as Neil Young’s backing band. Their originals drew a line from Laurel Canyon at the turn of the ’70s to Seattle in the early ’90s. 

Pilgrimage2019Sun Jenny Lewis29Jenny LewisPhoto: Steve Cross

Jenny Lewis also tapped into that boomer-rock vibe, slinking around the Midnight Sun stage in head-to-toe pink sparkles, with color-coded shades, microphone and a tambourine that doubled as a makeshift fan in the 90-degree heat. “Is it too early for tequila?” the L.A. singer-songwriter asked rhetorically before her six-piece, black-tie-clad band launched into “She’s Not Me” from her 2014 album Voyager. The tune was part of a 13-song set that luxuriated in a bed of big, multi-part harmonies, resonant piano and elastic Fleetwood Mac-style grooves. The Watson Twins, who’d played a set of their own early Saturday, came up for an assist on four tunes.

Pilgrimage2019Sun Foo Fighters43Foo FightersPhoto: Steve Cross

Foo Fighters’ headlining set was one of the loudest Pilgrimage has seen, and whatever Dave Grohl & Co.’s charged two-hour performance Sunday lacked in surprises or unscripted moments it made up for in big riffs, big feels and big fun. The megaton hooks of modern-rock classics “Monkey Wrench,” “Hey, Johnny Park!” and the unimpeachable “Everlong,” which closed the night, still pack a potent punch two decades after their initial release. Grohl, who turned 50 in January, plays with the energy to keep the band going at least another two decades. He gave the middle-aged folks in the crowd a good-natured ribbing: “Yeah, I’m old! So are you!”

In the end, the weather cooperated, the traffic was significant though not impossible to navigate, and there were tons of families enjoying a weekend out. (Seeing the Foo Fighters or The Killers as your first rock show isn’t a bad place to start.) There’s always room for improvement — bringing outstanding black artists like Adia Victoria, Devon Gilfillian and The War and Treaty (the last of whom was recently crowned Americana Music Association Emerging Act of the Year) further into the afternoon and evening time slots might help them catch the eyes and ears they deserve. The likelihood that there will be a Pilgrimage in 2020, in which organizers can make those kinds of changes, seems strong.

See our first and second slideshows for more photos.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Lit House Features WC Professor’s Research Into African American Publishing


Alisha Knight

Alisha Knight, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, will discuss her unique research into the African American book publishing trade at the turn of the 20th century during a Sept. 26 event at the Rose O’ Neill Literary House.

The talk entitled “Agents Wanted: Selling Racial Uplift at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” is part of the Fall Literary House Series and is free and open to the public. It begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Lit House, followed by a catered reception.

Knight will discuss themes from her current research project, which is centered around the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company, a black-owned publisher based in Boston in the early 1900s. Her work examines the peculiar nature of disseminating literature to African Americans at a time when many publishers either took this reading audience for granted or simply assumed it did not exist.

Knight teaches a range of courses in African American literature and print culture at Washington College. Her teaching and scholarship favors interdisciplinary study, as she aims to expand the canon with lesser-known authors and bring new perspectives to well-known ones. Her first book, “Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream,” was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2012. In addition to her second book project, she is co-editing a scholarly edition of Hopkins’s novel, “Hagar’s Daughter,” for Broadview Press.

For more information on this event or the Literary House, visit the website at, or view the annual Literary Events Calendar brochure here: