Arts, Off Campus

Berklee Concert Honors Legacy of Black Artists While Celebrating Black History Month

Swinging, high-tempo jazz music, elegant dancing, and powerful singing performances filled the stage of the Berklee Performance Center on Thursday night. The inaugural Berklee Legacy Award Concert on Thursday featured performances from Berklee students, faculty, and special guests that were dedicated to four Black artists whose creative work broke barriers. 

The concert recognized violinist Joseph Douglass, dancer and actress Carmen de Lavallade, and musicians Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan for their artistic achievements.  

According to Lacretia Johnson Flash, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Berklee College of Music, the artists’ legacies will live on at Berklee with spaces around campus named after them, including the Duke Ellington Caf and Sarah Vaughan Classroom.

After a quartet performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Johnson Flash said that the spaces were dedicated to the artists in April 2021 to inspire future artists.

“In those spaces, the next generation of artists, our students, and so many others will grow and blossom and be nourished,” Johnson Flash said. 

Johnson Flash said that the overarching principle at the center of the night’s celebration was the word ubuntu. The word originates from the Zulu people of southern Africa and means “I am, because we are,” according to the concert’s program. 

Johnson Flash said that ubuntu is the mindset guiding Black history celebrations at Berklee. The events aim to honor the excellence of Black people and work toward creating a racially inclusive community.

The first of the night’s four tributes was a violin solo dedicated to Douglass, who the college honored in a building at 8 Fenway Park Way by renaming the lobby the Joseph Douglass Lobby. 

Douglass, the grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, studied at the Boston Conservatory, which is now associated with Berklee, from the late 1880s to the early 1890s, according to the program. The violin performance dedicated to Douglass was entitled “Louisiana Blues Strut,” and was performed by Malachi Provenzo.

After the final crescendo of the violin performance, Berklee faculty members and Grammy-nominated musician Tia Fuller took the stage to conduct student performances. Fuller, listed as the Legacy Band director in the concert’s program, also played alto saxophone, receiving a warm reception from the audience.

The night continued with a tribute to de Lavallade, who has appeared both on Broadway and on screen. Berklee honored the multi-talented artist with the dedication of its Carmen de Lavallade Dance Studio.

The tribute consisted of three dancers performing complex routines that shifted between subtle, slow movements in one moment and high leaps in the next. 

Following de Lavallade’s tribute was a medley of several of Ellington’s most well-known works. Ellington was the first recipient of an honorary degree from Berklee. 

Berklee honored Ellington, one of the most well-known jazz musicians, by naming a popular student hub The Duke Ellington Caf.

The medley featured songs such as “Take the A Train” and “Caravan.” Marquis Hill, a composer who Berklee welcomed as a special guest for the concert, garnered several rounds of applause throughout the set with his trumpet performance. 

The final set highlighted the work of Vaughan, a Grammy Hall of Fame–honored singer who was the first Black woman to receive an honorary degree from Berklee in 1978. The Sarah Vaughan Classroom now serves as a space for student practice sessions.

Alongside Jazzmeia Horn, a three-time Grammy nominee, a drum circle and jazz band presented a high-tempo performance punctuated by Horn’s powerful singing. Horn performed her song “He’s My Guy” and a rendition of Ellington’s song “Come Sunday.”

After the closing note of the performance, loud and extended applause marked the end of the celebratory night.

“Hopefully you all learned a little bit more about Joseph Douglass, Carmen de Lavallade, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan,” Fuller said, as Horn’s encore performance of “Come Sunday”  filled the theater while attendees filtered out of the hall.

Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor

February 27, 2022