Jazz, poetry honor Black History
Posted: February 14, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — Music and the oral tradition is an integral part of African-American history.
Long before the written word became easily accessible to black Americans, song and the spoken word helped pass on their story.
Two events in Winchester this weekend will continue that tradition.
Poet Ray Crawford Jr. will explore the oral tradition with “Spoken Soul,” a one-man show of poetry, song and prose at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Shenandoah Arts Council, 811 S. Loudoun St. The event is free and open to the public.
The Coalition for Racial Unity will mark Black History Month with its annual John Kirby Jazz Fest from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Piccadilly’s Public House, 125 E. Piccadilly St. Tickets are $20 per person.
For many families, the oral tradition is how they pass along the history of generations as well as the history of the nation, said Crawford, who graduated from Handley High School in 1991.
His show at the arts council is meant to demonstrate how people can use words to show appreciation for their culture, he said. But it also shows how they can help others identify with a history they might not be that familiar with — “the beauty as well as some of the not so beautiful aspects of it.”
“If we understand our collective history and know what role we play in that, we are better able to be a more fulfilled society,” he said. “That is the point of all of this. I just want people to come out and have an experience.”
“Spoken Soul” is being offered as part of the Black History Month events at SAC. The arts council likes to offer programming on top of installed exhibitions, Executive Director Tracy Marlatt said. The current exhibit, “Interculturality,” features three female African-American artists.
Crawford has performed at SAC before as part of its “Art Inspired by Art” show, she said. The exhibit features artists and poets inspired by the works of one another to create something in their own genre.
It is always interesting when Crawford reads his work, because there is a “cadence to it” and a whole presentation, she said.
“I think it is going to create a special ambiance,” she said. “It is a very strong visual art exhibition and his spoken word is very strong. Add the two together and it is going to be a powerful night of poetry.”
Most of the show will feature original work by Crawford, although he will perform a few pieces by poets such as Langston Hughes and Robert Hayden. He also likes to bring an audio-visual component to the show with music and images to accompany his words.
Although he loves performing, Crawford said he always looks forward to the time after the show when he gets feedback from the audience.
“The conversation after may be the best part of the entire presentation because we get to delve into some of the subject matter and learn from one another,” he said.
Crawford, who grew up in Winchester, has been writing since he was a child and creating poetry for at least a decade. After graduating from Handley, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1995.
He moved to Washington, D.C., where he still lives with his wife, Melissa, and worked for FEMA for 10 years before shifting to the U.S. Department of Education. He is the director of facilities, security and emergency management for the office of Federal Student Aid.
He is also earning a doctorate in political science from Howard University, where he earned his master’s degree in 2003.
John Kirby Jazz Fest
The Coalition for Racial Unity will mark Black History Month with its celebration of Kirby, a native son who was an influential musician in the jazz world, said Melissa Nilsen, secretary of the group.
The event will feature music by the Shenandoah Conservatory Jazz Sextet, led by Robert Larson, director of jazz studies, and SV Jazz. Both groups will have about a two-hour set.
A dessert bar is included in the ticket price, and people can order food and drinks.
The event formerly was held in December, but because Kirby was an African-American celebrity from Winchester, the group thought it “would be appropriate to move it to Black History Month and celebrate the entire month and everything in this one night.”
“John Kirby had a big influence on jazz music in general,” Nielsen said. “He was known for taking classical pieces and then turning them into jazz. They are very complex, and they are a little difficult to play, but I think that is what makes them so great.”
The event makes a great date to celebrate Valentine’s Day or just to enjoy a night of jazz, she said. Dancing is always encouraged.
For more information on “Spoken Soul,” call the Shenandoah Arts Council at 540-667-5166.
To purchase tickets for the John Kirby Jazz Fest, call the Coalition for Racial Unity at 800-708-6448 or The Laurel Center at 540-667-6160 and ask for Melissa Nilsen.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org.