The Apollo To Premiere ‘The Blues And Its People’

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Russell Gunn was commissioned by the Apollo Theater to compose the music for The Blues And Its People.

(Photo: Courtesy of Russell Gunn)

The Apollo Theater in Harlem continues its 2022–’23 season theme of The Next Movement with The Blues And Its People, a new commissioned work composed by trumpeter Russell Gunn in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the acclaimed book Blues People: Negro Music in White America by political activist Amiri Baraka (aka Leroi Jones).

Premiering on Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. (EST), The Blues And Its People is an evening-length concert event that features seven new music works and selected readings from the perennial text. Special guests will include vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trombonist Craig Harris, saxophonist Oliver Lake, West African Djembe drummer Weedie Braimah, Piano Prince of New Orleans Davell Crawford and poet Jessica Care Moore.

“As an organization that champions Black artists and the immense impact that these artists and their music have had and continue to have on American culture, we are excited to commission Russell Gunn to create a timeless work that celebrates the important work of Baraka and the exploration it provides of the African American experience through music while considering the future of contemporary culture,” said Apollo Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes.

Commissioned by the Apollo, Gunn will perform the seven new songs with his Atlanta-based, 24-member Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra, whose sound blends traditional big band jazz music with rhythm-and-blues and Southern hip-hop. Excerpts from the book along with other related material on Black culture and history will be woven in throughout the night, and additional narrators, poets and musical guests will accompany the evening.

Blues People traces the music created by African Americans once they arrived in America and builds a thesis that Black culture developed alongside the music created and cultivated. Author Baraka (1934–2014) examines how cultural and societal events impacted music and vice versa, such as the changes of the African American experience from slavery to emancipation, the link between African music and the music of “work songs” that were common in countries in Africa but transformed during slavery, how Euro-American Christianity merged with African religious music to form gospel music and how emancipation merged with the struggle for economic and societal equality led to the blues, which eventually birthed jazz and bebop.

Baraka was a prolific and polarizing writer and poet with a career spanning more than 50 years. He was recognized for his strident social criticism and works that explored themes of Black liberation and racism. Considered a founding member of the Black Arts Movement in American literature during the 1960s and ’70s, his works have been described as defining texts for African American culture as one of the most respected and published Black writers of his generation. Baraka spent three years in the U.S. Air Force and studied at Rutgers University, Howard University, Columbia University and The New School.

For more information on The Blues And Its People, click here. DB



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