Unless you were under a rock, we hope you were tuned into the livestream video broadcast of the unforgettable and star-studded Broadway For Black Lives Matter benefit concert that took place Monday night, Aug. 1, in the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall. The night guaranteed a bountiful feast of headlines and hashtags. Undoubtedly, this was due to introductions from Tony-winning Broadway royalty Cynthia Ervio, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Jeanine Tesori and Alex Sharp, for instance, or performances from the 2016 cast of the Encores! Off-Center concert series revival of Elizabeth Swados’ Runaways, nine-time Grammy Award nominee Ledisi, Tony Award winner Billy Porter, and four-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie and Broadway Inspirational Voices (with original arrangements by Tony nominee Michael McElroy). However, the big take away from the night was the show’s themes of inclusion, cross cultural pollination and intersectionality.
This could be more evident in many of the night’s performances. Whether it was the rhythmic spoken word of Daniel J. Watts addressing “Columbusing” and cultural appropriation, or the poetry of Daniel Beaty, which challenged social justice warriors to rise up while name-checking victims of police brutality—Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice and the thousands who have now become “future ancestors”—, speakers had one thing in mind: To bring spark a fire and conjure incentive to keep protesting and progressing.
However revolutions can’t be won alone and as Frank Roberts, a professor at New York University emphasized, “Black Lives Matter is an intersectional movement.” It is also an artistic moment and one of the most powerful arts is song. Be it anthems like Crystal Monee Hall’s rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Ledisi’s interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Billy Porter’s startling cover of Tony Bennet’s “Take The Moment” or India.Arie’s own “Breathe,” audiences noticed that protests come in many sounds and colors. American musical theatre also has its fair share of protest songs and civil rights anthems, they just may not be as well known, so here’s a list of the best that graced stages on Broadway and off.
“The Scottsboro Boys” (The Scottsboro Boys, 2010)
Kander & Ebb have an arsenal of protest songs, but they are probably not as scathing as the eponymous musical number in The Scottsboro Boys that ends the show on a rather anticlimax note. Nudged to do a cakewalk by The Interlocutor, the host of a minstrel show, the men wipe off their make-up in defiance and walk off stage. What’s even more remarkable is the inclusion of a young lady (until now thought to be a mute character) is revealed to be Rosa Parks. When asked to move to the back of the bus to make room for a white passenger, she refuses promptly. You know what happens next. A close second would be: “Go Back Home.”
“Listen!” (from The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, 2000)
A musical womanist exposé on racism and sexism, Kirsten Childs’s breakthrough The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, an ode to self-acceptance and independence, is encapsulated in the blistering defiance of the 11 o’clock number, “Listen!” Through accommodating and pleasing everyone, the smiling and docile Viveca Stanton speaks up.
“I’m Here” (from The Color Purple, 2005)
Five years after LaChanze originated the role of Viveca Stanton at off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizons, she originated the role of Celie in the Broadway production of The Color Purple and took home a Tony award for Best Actress (Her musical catalogue is enviable!). Naturally, Cythnia Erivo had some big shoes to fill in the Broadway revival, especially on the 11 o’clock number, “I’m Here.” The song captures a black woman, considered ugly and insignificant, feeling a deep love for herself for the first time.
“Back To Before” (Ragtime, 1998)
While Audra McDonald made history with the original Broadway production of Ragtime, becoming a three-time Tony Award winner by age 28 (she would win three more), the musical is also remembered for its astonishing score, particularly Marin Mazie’s second act number “Back To Before.” The song is about a bourgeoisie white woman coming to terms with the times and choosing to change with it, understanding that she cannot sit idle while others—in this case, segregated black people—are suffering.
“I Am What I Am” (La Cage aux Folles, 1983)
Jerry Herman is one of the most underrated songwriters for this reason: “I Am What I Am,” Albin’s act-one finale. Written by two openly gay men, La Cage aux Folles is revolutionary in many ways, but with this protest song meets torch ballad, a gay man declares that he is proud of who he is and refuses to change for anyone, even his partner. Keep in mind, the first AIDS/HIV cases in the U.S. were reported as early as 1981.
“Keys/It’s Alright” (Passing Strange, 2008)
Stew’s Tony-winning Künstlerroman rock ‘n roll masterpiece about a young African American’s artistic journey of self-discovery has a salvo of protest songs and gut-wrenching anthems, but none of them match the sonic blast of “Keys/It’s Alright.” About a black man finding friends and a home away from home, the song serves as an anthem for lost souls looking for community.
“Being Good Isn’t Enough” (Hallelujah, Baby!; 1966)
Hallelujah, Baby!, the show that made Leslie Uggams an A-list theater diva, is best remembered for the act-one finale, “Being Good…” which was re-recorded by another diva, Barbara Streisand. Following an ambitious young black woman who seeks stardom, through song, she decides to work twice as hard as everyone else to make her dreams come true. Sound familiar?
“Seasons of Love” (Rent, 1996)
The refrain “Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” in Jonathan Larson’s Rent asks the listeners what the appropriate way to calculate the value of a year in human life is. Given the subject matter and the fact that it is sung by artists in the show, “Seasons of Love” rings closer to home in a post-BLM world.
“Defying Gravity” (Wicked, 2003)
The biggest song in Broadway’s biggest musical, “Defying Gravity” finds the singer realizing she must do what’s best for her and that she must not let anyone hold her down.
“We Gotta Get out of This Place” (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, 2014)
By the time Beautiful: The Carole King Musical made it to Broadway, “We Got To Get Out Of This Place” was already registered in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. Nevertheless, while the song is about the Vietnam War, it feels very appropriate for what has been happening Flint, MI; Baton Rouge, LA; Baltimore, MD; and Ferguson, MO.
“Zombie” (Fela!, 2010)
Typical of jukebox musicals, touchstones like Fela Kuti’s 1976 Afrobeat smash “Zombie” were well known to black music listeners before it came to Broadway. In Fela!, the rough-and-rowdy revue inspired by the musician, the song—which described and attacked the methods of the Nigerian military—feels somewhat adjacent to methods taken in police criminalization cases.
“What’s Going On?” (Motown: The Musical, 2013)
In Motown, Marvin Gaye’s seminal smash hit “What’s Going On?” gets performed after a medley of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and Edwin Starr’s “War,” creating a kind of catharsis that reminds us that work still needs to be done.
“My Shot” (Hamilton, 2015)
One must admit, the first twenty minutes of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton are perhaps unparalleled by any other musical and that’s because of the relentless wordplay of “My Shot.” In the song, the protagonist electrifies other young revolutionaries with his rhetoric, but also speaks about his disillusionment with the U.K. while dreaming of laying down his lives for a better future. This is basically the musical theatre equivalent of the Black Lives Matter anthem.
“Run and Tell That” (Hairspray, 2002)
From “Welcome to the 60’s” and “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” in act one to “Without Love,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat” in the second act, the musical score of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s Hairspray is chock-full of protest songs and civil rights anthems galore. But none are as multifaceted as “Run and Tell That.” The R&B number is a black pride hymn, and speaks to the veracities related with being marginalized by a white society.
“Hair” (Hair, 1968)
Sharing the same name as the musical, very few songs are as catchy or as memorable as “Hair”—yeah, that includes favorites like “Aquarius,” “Easy To Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and even “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).” All of the show’s themes come together—race, class, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism—and all of it through is the texture, length, color and style of hair. It’s an intersectional anthem and one that embraces natural hair!
“The Song of Purple Summer” (from Spring Awakening, 2006)
The kids are not all right in Spring Awakening, but “the seeds are already being planted” for an emerging liberal minded, progressive generation and the puritanical viewpoints of adults will one day be a thing of the past.
“Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day” (The Wiz, 1975)
There are so many great songs in Charlie Smalls’ The Wiz and it’s hard to choose which one, given the emotional complexity in songs like “Believe in Yourself” and “Home,” or the just keep swimming feeling of “Ease on Down the Road.” But “Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day” is a celebration song, a dance of freedom underscored by African rhythms and gospel horns. Freedom never sounded so exhilarating.
Brennyn Lark, Allison Semmes, & More Featured in Darkness RISING: Live 2! A Mental Health Benefit Concert
Join the Black Broadway community tonight, April 8th, as they perform inspirational cover songs at Darkness RISING: Live 2. The concert benefits Darkness RISING Nonprofit, an organization founded by Carlita Victoria, focuses on mental wellness in the Black community. Audience members will enjoy songs of hope from a range of genres: musical theatre, pop, R&B, and gospel under the musical direction of David Rowen of David Rowen Creative.
Darkness RISING Nonprofit is a mental health project with the goal of inspiring conversations about mental health, and helping to create access to mental health resources in the Black community in an effort to tell our stories and erase the stigma. The project was created as a means of Carlita facing her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. African Americans are 20% more likely to have serious psychological distress than other Americans. The project includes a newly released album on iTunes, a visual album on YouTube, live concerts, and free wellness workshops.
The event will be held at the Knitting Factory Brooklyn at 7 pm (doors open at 6:30pm) Located at 361 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The evening will include vendors, raffle prizes, a silent auction, and a full bar. $20 In advance, $25 At the door $40 VIP includes: Wristband, free drink, premier seating, swag bag, cast meet & greet. The show will be hosted by Broadway Black’s Drew Shade.
Tickets can be purchased at bkknittingfactory.com.
The cast features soloists:
Brennyn Lark, (DREAMGIRLS WEST END, LES MISERABLES BROADWAY)
Liisi LaFontaine (DREAMGIRLS WEST END, THE WINNER IS ABC)
Allison Semmes (MOTOWN BROADWAY, BOOK OF MORMON)
Gabrielle Reid (BEAUTIFUL THE MUSICAL, HAIRSPRAY BROADWAY, THE COLOR PURPLE NATIONAL TOUR),
Kris Roberts (BEAUTIFUL THE MUSICAL, FAME NATIONAL TOUR),
Jasmin Richardson (GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER, THE BODYGUARD NATIONAL TOUR)
JoNathan Michael (DREAMGIRLS INTERNATIONAL TOUR, FAME NATIONAL TOUR)
Cedrina Shari (BONEY M),
Anita Welch (AVENUE Q NATIONAL TOUR)
Gerard Williams (JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at North Carolina Theatre)
Nattalyee Randall (ROCKTOPIA)
Tamala Baldwin (DREAMGIRLS at NSMT)
Darkness RISING Founder, Carlita Victoria (HAIRSPRAY at Paramount Theatre).
The ensemble features Vlad Dorson, Valton Jackson (HALFTIME at PAPERMILL PLAYHOUSE), Ashley Jeudy (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER at IVORYTON PLAYHOUSE), Nichollette Shorts (PHOENIX RISING), Sheniqua Trotman (DREAMGIRLS at IVORYTON THEATRE), David LaMarr (LITTLE MERMAID at TUACAHN), and Tatianna Mott (AVENUE Q at SMITHTOWN PAC).
Band memebers include: Ian Jess (Bass), Mark ‘Lace’ Gibbs (Guitar), Quinton Robinson (Drums), and David Rowen (Piano/Musical Director)
Darkness RISING: A Mental Health Awareness Project is sponsored, in part, by the
Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural
Affairs, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) and Fractured Atlas. For more info: darknessrisingproject.org. Follow: @darknessrisingproject.
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🌟 ALL STAR CAST 🌟 These amazing vocalists will be performing at Darkness RISING live 2. You will not want to miss this performance on April 8th. Link in bio for tickets. _____ Monday 4/8 7pm Knitting Factory Williamsburg _____ $20 in advance $25 at the door _____ $40 VIP: + Swag Bag + Premier seating + Free drink + VIP photo + Wristband + Cast meet & greet This event is made possible by @nyscouncilonthearts, administered by @bkartscouncil. _____ #promo #rise #Riseup #discount #dontmissout #nyc #nycevents #eventscalendar #livemusic #livesingers #inspirationalmusic #thingstodoinnyc #benefitconcert #musicheals #Brooklyn #citylife #knittingfactory #nightlife #nycnights #BroadwayBlack #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #Blackmentalhealth #DarknessRISING
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As someone who does their best to rise up every day in spite of depression & anxiety, mental healthiness, access to resources, and conversations particularly centering Black people are important to me. The @darknessrisingproject is doing the good work and I’m honored to be hosting their next benefit concert to further bring awareness and support for those in need. Join #broadwayblack along with some of Broadway’s finest voices April 8th, 2019 7 PM @knittingfactorybk to be uplifted and encouraged and also support the awesome organization that is @darknessrisingproject! 🔗 Link on bio for tickets! Thank you, @itscarlitav for your tireless efforts! What you’re doing is so important and necessary! That is #broadwayblack! 💜🙌🏽✊🏽
Erika Dickerson-Despenza Addresses Flint Water Crisis with Cullud Wattah
There is limited seating left for Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s new play CULLUD WATTAH at The Public Theater. Opening today, Thursday, March 7th and running until Sunday, March 10th in the Public Studio is about three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
“It’s been 936 days since Marion’s family has had clean water. When local activists file a class action lawsuit against the city, Marion—a third-generation employee at General Motors—must decide how best to support her two daughters, sister, and mother while lead seeps into the community, their home, and their bodies. As corrosive memories and secrets rise among them, the family wonders if they’ll ever be able to filter out the truth.”
2018 Relentless Award Semifinalist and poet-playwright makes her Public Theater debut with CULLUD WATTAH directed by Lilly Award winner Candis C. Jones; the cast includes Deonna Bouye (Marion), Alana Raquel Bowers (Reesee), Caroline Stefanie Clay (Big Ma), Nikiya Mathis (Ainee), and Kara Young (Plum).
The creative team includes Production Stage Manager Gregory Fletcher, Stage Manager Priscilla Villanueva, and Movement Director Adesola Osakalumi. Along with scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Megan Culley
We believe in this work so much we’re giving away 4 tickets to the performances on March 10th. 2 tickets to the matinee and two the evening performance thanks to our founder Drew Shade and actress/playwright Jocelyn Bioh. Go to our Instagram to find out how!
Also, find out more about how you can help the Flint Water Crisis and support this show HERE.
Listen to Erika talk about her work on an episode of Off Book Podcast below