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Henrietta Hudson Hosts Fundraiser for Pulse Nightclub Memorial

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  Last night I happened to walk into Henrietta Hudson in Manhattan for a well-deserved cocktail, and found a fundraiser in progress benefitting the onePULSE Foundation. As we all remember, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was the scene of a horrific massacre in 2016 in which 49 people were murdered and 53 more were wounded. The majority of the victims were LBGTQ, and as it was Latin Night, most were Latino and Latina. The club's owner, Barbara Poma, has begun a campaign to erect a memorial and museum on the site of the nightclub.  Barbara Poma "No one can dance there anymore," said Poma to the crowd at Henrietta's, as she shared the story of being invited to the White House to witness President Biden's signing of a bill naming the location of the massacre as a national memorial. Here is the  Statement by President Joe Biden on the 5th Anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting . You can contribute by texting Hudson to 50155, or by scanning the QR code abo

Chadra Pittman and Michelle Brown Present Nina Kennedy's Virtual Book Launch

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On Saturday March 19th, Chadra Pittman, founder and executive director of The Sankofa Projects , and Michelle Brown, founder and host of the weekly podcast Collections by Michelle Brown , presented a Zoom Event called "A Conversation with World Renowned Pianist, Filmmaker and Conductor NINA KENNEDY as she launches her 2nd book and talks about the women who shaped her life." People from all over the country joined the Zoom meeting, during which Nina read from her two books Practicing for Love  and Practice What You Preach . After a screening of the video of Nina's performance of Schumann's "Widmung,"  the discussion opened with an homage to Ella Sheppard, matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers founded in 1871. The Singers toured to raise money for the fledgling Fisk Free Colored School, known today as Fisk University. Nina's parents met when they were students at Fisk, and she stated that she probably would not be here today had it not been for Fi

Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and National Identity

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  Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski The other night I was watching Amanpour and Company , and happened to see the Polish ambassador to the United States being interviewed. Behind him were the Polish and European Union flags prominently placed, and the keyboard of a Steinway grand piano. It reminded me that one of Poland's greatest heroes was pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Frédéric  Chopin in 1849 During the interview, Christiane Amanpour repeatedly asked the ambassador what he thought about the United States' refusal to assist the Ukrainians by replacing Polish war planes sent to Ukraine with American planes, and flying them from NATO air space. The ambassador was as diplomatic as he could be, without directly accusing the United States of contributing to the death toll in Ukraine. Looking at history, Poland had rebelled against Russia in the November Uprising of 1830-31. Chopin was out of the country when the rebellion began, and wrote in his letters about being worri

Where Was James Baldwin's Boyfriend?

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James Baldwin As we are nearing the end of Black History Month, I find myself reading and listening to the words of James Baldwin. He became one of the most articulate voices of the Civil Rights Movement, yet it is hard to find any description or discussion - in his own words - of his life as a gay man. One could guess that he describes some of his gay life in the novel Giovanni's Room , which can easily be dismissed as a work of fiction. We know that he met the man who became the love of his life, Lucien Happersberger, in Paris in 1949, when Lucien was 17 and James was 25. The fact that Lucien was white could have served as proof that, at least in Baldwin's mind, black men and white men could love each other. But unfortunately, Baldwin chose to remain in the closet, using references to "... my wife" and "... my woman, my children..." in his interviews. The truth is, the most significant woman in his life was his mother, and the children he referred to were

Nina Kennedy Participates in Panel Discussion on the Negro Spiritual

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  Nina and Matthew Kennedy On February 24th, the Church of the Holy Spirit of Lake Forest, Illinois presented a panel discussion on "The History and Evolution of the Negro Spiritual." Panelists included former Fisk Jubilee Singers Delano O'Banion, George Cooper, Robert Denson, and E.J. Murray. Nina Kennedy was the only non-Jubilee Singer panelist, as her father served as director of the group from 1957 to 1986. The Reverend Mother Jihan Murray-Smith, Associate Rector at the Church of the Holy Spirit, - and also a former Fisk Jubilee Singer - served as moderator. The conversation included much history of the Negro Spiritual starting with its origins on American plantations during slavery, and the importation of African melodies during the Middle Passage. Several recordings were heard including those of Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Delano O'Banion While the famous portrait of the Fisk Jubilee Singers commissioned by Queen Victoria was on the screen, Nina Kennedy sh

The Fisk Jubilee Singers Celebrate 150 Years

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In 1871, Verdi’s groundbreaking opera Aida had its world premiere in Cairo. October 6th of that same year, a group of formerly enslaved African Americans set out on their first fundraising tour to save the Free Fisk Colored School in Nashville, which had been established by the American Missionary Association in the aftermath of the Civil War. Within three years, this group primarily made up of teenagers would find themselves singing in the royal courts of Europe, eventually singing before Queen Victoria who reportedly stated, “These young people sing so beautifully they must be from the Music City of the United States.” This group of singers became internationally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Queen Victoria commissioned a larger-than-life-sized painting of the group that hangs in Jubilee Hall today. Built from the proceeds from those first concert tours, Jubilee Hall was the first permanent structure built in the United States specifically for the purpo

Don Shirley, "Green Book," and Me

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I finally got the chance to sit down and watch the Oscar-winning film Green Book , on the life of African American concert pianist Don Shirley . As I had written in an earlier blog ( "Ebony and Ivory: A Dissonant Truth" ), I had visited with Dr. Shirley in his apartment above Carnegie Hall when my parents were in New York with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The film gave a very accurate depiction of his home and the extravagant, ostentatious décor. The Real Don Shirley in his home Don Shirley was praised early in his life as a genius, a wunderkind whose forte was the traditional classical repertoire. Composer Igor Stravinsky said of him: "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods." But his record label forced him to play jazz, and sent him on tour with a jazz trio. In an interview, Shirley said that his record label wanted him to appear in overalls with a red bandana around his neck on the album cover. He refused. In my own book I have written about facing racism as an African Am

Nina Kennedy Invited to Present Lecture/Book Signing at Juilliard

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As you may have read last month (in my blog  "Juilliard Covers Its Ass" ), I was very upset to learn of an auditory exercise conducted by the Juilliard Drama Division depicting scenes from slavery. Several students complained about this exercise, and posted some of the actual audio on Facebook and Instagram. The person who presented this workshop claimed that the intent of the exercise was to explore the origins of Negro Spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Anyone who knows me knows that my father directed the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who have been called the originators of the Negro Spiritual. In my  Lammy-nominated memoir ,  Practicing for Love , I wrote extensively about the history of the Jubilee Singers, and how their music had been utilized by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák in his Symphony from the New World. When I wrote the first blog, Juilliard had expressed no interest whatsoever in my book. Well, about a week after I sent an email of complaint to the Director of Alumni

Juilliard Covers Its Ass

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On April 23rd, I received an email from the Juilliard Alumni Association director. In it was an email from the president of the school addressing an issue concerning a workshop conducted by the Drama Division. Evidently, the Drama Division invited a guest lecturer who conducted a workshop on the African American experience during slavery. In the words of President Woetzel to students, faculty, and staff:       "I write to you to address a September 2020 Drama Division workshop that has impacted our school community. While I am s haring a message below that was sent to the drama community by Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the Drama Division, I believe it is important for our school community to hear directly from me.      To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals wh

Frances Elizabeth Taylor: Dancer, Actress, Muse

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Frances Taylor at the Miles Davis exhibit Frances Taylor While watching the PBS documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis ( Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool ), I was very interested in the interview with dancer Frances Taylor, to whom Davis was married from 1959 to 1968. After doing some research, I learned that Frances Taylor was the first African-American ballerina to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet. She was a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, had roles in the Broadway musicals Mr. Wonderful , Shinbone Alley , and was an original cast member of West Side Story . Taylor also appeared in the Off-Broadway productions of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess .  While working on Broadway, she was credited as Elizabeth Taylor because there was already an actress named Frances Taylor, so she used her middle name. Frances Taylor and Leonard Bernstein Frances Taylor was a  member of the original cast of  West Side Story , working alongside Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and

Matthew Kennedy 100th Birthday Celebration March 10th

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Join us as we pay homage to  American classical pianist, professor, choral director, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals Matthew Kennedy , who was born March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. We will be posting links to his recordings, articles, and film clips as part of his 100th birthday celebration. As a young boy, Matthew Kennedy sat in the segregated audience for a live concert given by famed Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. He decided to become a pianist himself after that concert. Soon afterwards, he and his mother traveled to New York City at apply for study at the Juilliard School, for which he won a scholarship as a result of imitating Rachmaninoff's playing style. After graduating from the Juilliard Preparatory Division, he entered Fisk University as a freshman and served as piano accompanist for the Fisk Jubilee Singers under then-director Mrs. James A. Myers. He traveled the world with the group performing several solo pieces on their programs, thu

Susan Seltzer: Patroness, Partner, Spirit

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  Susan Seltzer in her office at Met Life On this day in 1990 at 2:13 am., Susan Seltzer passed away. She was thirty-three years old. Two and-a-half years earlier, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. After six weeks of radiation therapy, and then six months of chemo therapy, she lost her battle with cancer, and took her last breath while holding my hand.     Susan Seltzer was born in Yonkers, New York to Evelyn and Herman Seltzer. The family soon moved to New City, New York, where she went to high school. Susan attended Union College in upstate New York, and then transferred her credits at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where her classes were conducted in Hebrew, in which she was fluent. Her father was a V.P. at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and enabled her to have her first job as a Systems Programmer. Herman Seltzer was quite successful in his own right as an originator of the first IBM Mainframe computer, which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Susan

Raphael Warnock Quotes Howard Thurman

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Senator Raphael Warnock At the end of Inauguration Day, I heard the new Georgia Senator the Reverend Raphael Warnock being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. At one point in the interview, Rachel pointed out how some Republicans had tried to hold Warnock's religion against him. As part of his response, he quoted the words of American philosopher and theologian  Howard Thurman: " By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst."   The words went by so fast that I had to pause and rewind, and listen to it several times.  While contemplating these words, I thought of how slave owners had used biblical text to encourage passivity and obedience in their slaves. The church was the only legal gathering place for slaves, precisely  for that purpose. So how were formerly enslaved people able to claim this religion after emancipation? I do have a rather unique perspective as I was f

The Arts Don't Matter

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Madame Butterfly It is a very frustrating time to be an artist right now. To say nothing of the fact that we can't perform before a live audience, for those of us who have thrown our energies into writing, it seems that if we are not interested in politics or Donald Trump, our voices don't matter. I have written extensively on racism in the arts, and sexism as well. This year my words have appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice , The Tennessee Tribune , GO Magazine , and most recently in MusicWeb International  (based in the U.K.). They were even heard in the podcast Jazz Ready  hosted by Magdalena Gomez. But the major outlets (i.e., The New York Times , The New Yorker , New York Magazine , etc.) are only interested in publishing articles on politics and Trump. The Arts don't matter. This was one of the many reason why I spent so much time in Europe. There, the Arts always matter, regardless of what else is going on in the world. They have centuries of history throughout

In Celebration of Beethoven's 250th Birthday

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Ludwig von Beethoven In honor of Ludwig von Beethoven's 250th birthday next month (December 17th), I am putting to rest the mystery around the meaning of the lyrics of the chorus in his famous Ninth Symphony, which Anglophiles have called the "Ode to Joy." "Freude," the subject of the poem by Friedrich Schiller - literally translated as "Joy" - is really a Goddess. Joy is her name, and Elysium in mythology is the dwelling place of the gods, or can be loosely translated as "Paradise." I am especially frustrated when I hear English translations of Schiller's poem making references to "God the Father," etc. This poem has nothing to do with God. In fact, it can be loosely translated as a hymn in praise of "Joy" within the context of a pagan orgy. The poem reads as follows:           "An die Freude"                                                       "Ode to Joy"   Freude,  schöner Götterfunken,