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Hamilton-Garrett Center annual benefit concert will honor trailblazing Cuban artist Issac Delgado

Mandile Mpofu
Hamilton-Garrett Center annual benefit concert will honor trailblazing Cuban artist Issac Delgado
This year’s “Make Them Hear You” benefit concert will honor renowned Cuban musician Issac Delgado. PHOTO: COURTESY ISSAC DELGADO

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For years, students at the Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music & Arts, an after-school program in Roxbury, had regularly performed “Make Them Hear You,” the triumphant number from the musical “Ragtime.” The song became an integral part of the program’s repertoire. So, when Gerami Groover-Flores stepped into the role of the center’s executive director, she decided to commemorate the song and its message.

“We thought, why not have a night of music where we … allow our voices to be heard by individuals who know us and friends who haven’t had a chance to meet us yet, but will get to know us?” Groover-Flores said.

Gerami Groover-Flores, executive director, Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music & Arts. PHOTO: ANYELO G. FLORES

She envisioned the night to be an opportunity to celebrate Black music from the diaspora, she said, where the students and guests would honor musicians “who have really paved the way in making sure that our music remains alive.”

On June 15, the Hamilton-Garrett Center will present its third installment of “Make Them Hear You,” the benefit concert born from Groover-Flores’ seed of an idea. Starting at 6 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center, the concert will honor celebrated Cuban musician Issac Delgado, the first international honoree, for his work in bringing Afro-Cuban music to the forefront, Groover-Flores said.

The night will also feature performances by Grammy-winning artist PJ Morton, who will stop in Boston on his national tour, and Hamilton-Garrett Center’s drumline and all-girls youth choir.

The first “Make Them Hear You” concert honored Elta Garrett, a soprano and music teacher who in 2001 founded the center alongside well-known contralto Ruth Hamilton. The pair, both members of the historic Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, established the center to provide private lessons to youth, primarily of African American descent, and teach them how to sharpen their musicianship.

The center was first housed in the basement of a church parsonage. In 2020, thanks to a generous donation, Groover-Flores said, the school moved to its current location — a four-story house with creaky, wooden floors that contrast with its renovated modern classrooms.

Grammy-winning artist PJ Morton will perform at this year’s “Make Them Hear You” concert. PHOTO: Cedric Tang

The center is a special place where many feel at home, literally and figuratively, and community is a cornerstone, Groover-Flores said. Students aged 5 to 22 take lessons in piano, guitar, voice, drumset, violin, bass, winds and brass, and many of the center’s teachers are professors or graduates of the Berklee College of Music.

For more than 20 years, Groover-Flores said, the center has held a 100% acceptance rate for Boston’s only high school for the performing and visual arts, Boston Arts Academy. Hamilton-Garrett students who have applied to the Berklee College of Music have been accepted with full-tuition scholarships, and other students have received similar offers from other universities, she said.

Underpinning the center’s work is a mission to celebrate and preserve Black music history.

“When a student comes and receives private lessons in piano, they’re learning the music of African American composers, versus Bach and Beethoven,” said Groover-Flores, who was in the center’s very first class, studying voice with Garrett. “We believe that we have enough within our repertoire for our community of works that can be performed and studied, that can prepare our young people to be successful as musicians.”

On the stage at the “Make Them Hear You” concert, she said, will be “the future generation of musicians,” referring to the Hamilton-Garrett Center’s students. The youth, performing alongside Morton, will celebrate “what people of African descent have laid forth in culture and in music.”

The concert, Groover-Flores added, will be a space where “people can come engage with music, enjoy it, love it, appreciate it, but also pay homage to those unsung or unheard voices.”

Gerami Groover-Flores, Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music & Arts, Issac Delgado, music, PJ Morton