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Berklee pays tribute to black artists

Celina Colby | 3/15/2017, 10:30 a.m.
Drawn mostly from the last half century, the program highlighted artists like Morris Hayes, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder, who ...
Stokley Williams performs. Photo: Kelly Davidson

Last Thursday students from Berklee College of Music performed a concert in celebration of traditional black music. Drawn mostly from the last half century, the program highlighted artists like Morris Hayes, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder, who paved the way for new genres and sounds. “This concert attempts to draw from the rich black popular music traditions ... like Motown, Philly soul and the Isley Brothers, as well as the song and style movements from the past,” says professor Bill Banfield, director of Africana Studies at Berklee.

Morris Hayes, former music director for Prince, was a guest artist.

Morris Hayes, former music director for Prince, was a guest artist.

Morris Hayes, the former music director for Prince, was a guest artist for the event. In 2013 Hayes was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. A musician in his own right, he was inspired by the church music he heard as a child and has evolved his sound into its current smooth, contemporary discography.

Wide influence

For trumpet player and Berklee fifth-year, Christian Conti, the concert represents a significant impact on musical history. “I think it’s important to remember that black music has had a big influence on the American music scene,” Conti says. The music of those earlier eras of protest and social upheaval has special contemporary appeal to young listeners. “These people were dealing with social issues and challenges that are still relevant today. And I think that breeds an earnestness and honestness in their music,” he notes.

Patrice Rushen performs at the Berklee concert in celebrating traditional black music.

Patrice Rushen performs at the Berklee concert in celebrating traditional black music.

The Africana Studies department spans the spectrum, from traditional West African music and pop to reggae, rag time and gospel. In addition to an array of courses and guest artists like Regina Carter, George Duke and Lenny White, the program boasts The Pat Patrick Archive. Donated in 2010 by then-Governor Deval Patrick, the archive honors and celebrates the music of black heritage through the gift of his father’s holdings. A saxophonist who performed with Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye and Duke Ellington, among others, Pat Patrick left musical scores, news clippings, correspondence and more than 2,000 photographs to the archive.

On the web

For more information about the Berklee Africana Studies program, visit: www.berklee.edu/focused/africana

For more information about the Pat Patrick Archive, visit: www.berklee.edu/focused/africana/research-archive

More to come

The concert is just one in a series of performances targeting cultural inclusivity. On March 15, “Singin’ and Swingin’” exclusively features the jazzy beats of Ella Fitzgerald, and on April 20, “Divas Latinas” pays tribute to influential Hispanic pop singers. “Given the tremendous loss of major black artists like Prince and many others who defined one of the world’s great arts treasures, we want to examine, share, celebrate and create in the spirit of black music traditions,” says Banfield.