Frederick Douglass musical resonates with modern audiences, We Give Black Fest x Vegan SoulFest, Music teacher up for big award – Baltimore Sun

This week’s Baltimore Backstage goes behind the scenes of a new musical about a freedom-fighting Marylander, a festival that combines music, vegan food and Black culture, and a longtime music teacher who is getting a nod from the Recording Academy.

It’ll take a trek to DC, but audiences can learn about Frederick Douglass’s critical relationship to Baltimore, his first wife and the abolitionist’s notions on freedom at the premiere run of “American Prophet,” at Arena Stage.

Check out why plant-based eaters and vegan-curious foodies alike will enjoy We Give Black Fest x Vegan SoulFest and how the three-day festival meshes music, food and Black-owned businesses to empower, educate and entertain.

With more than three decades of fostering the next generation of musicians, a local arts educator is one of 207 music educators nominated for a Grammy.

Before he traveled the world as an orator and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass learned to read, found love and began his journey to freedom in Baltimore. Forty miles south of the city, at DC’s Arena Stage, the musical “American Prophet,” offers a melodic glimpse into Douglass’ life and emphasizes his legacy and wisdom for 21st century audiences.

“We’re really focused on a small sliver of his life, when he was a really young man. There are references to him being back in Baltimore…his stomping grounds,” said Emmy-nominated actor Cornelius Smith Jr., who is bringing Douglass to life in the world premiere of the musical. “It’s been a great opportunity and a great time, and an important time to be saying these words.”

Douglass’s speeches and writings are given artistic breath in “American Prophet,” with book by Charles Randolph-Wright (who also directed the show) and Marcus Human (who additionally wrote the music and lyrics).

Audiences peer into Douglass’ enslavement, escape to freedom and dealings with the historical figures such as John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, A love story serves as a critical throughline — his re-imagined life with first wife Anna Douglass, Though they were married from 1838 to her passing in 1882, little is known about Anna.

,[Anna’s] presence is brought forth and gives her recognition for the sacrifices and the contributions that she made, which helped make Frederick the man that we know him to be today,” said Smith. “This is the first time we’re seeing his story and his wife’s story told in a way that is entertaining, heart provoking, inspiring and a very unique way of storytelling.”

With the playwrights part of the rehearsal process, and Randolph-Wright serving double duty as director, the actors and creative team have made changes throughout the show’s run. Smith admits to adding a line for emphasis, that in turn, allows for audible audience engagement and feedback during the show.

A recent performance included laughs, claps, “Amens,” and “Alright nows,” after many lines — often direct Douglass quotes and musical numbers.

“Eighty percent of the words that I speak in the play are his actual words. I continue to learn, and am really struck by, the continued relevance of his words back then, and how much they still hold true today,” Smith said. ,[The show] represents we’ve certainly come a long way, but some things are definitely entrenched, so therefore, we still have a long way to go.”

The Emmy nominated actor, known for “All My Children,” “Scandal, and “How to Get Away with Murder,” offered a solution to persistent systemic challenges in the United States.

“As Frederick would say, ‘Agitate.'”

“American Prophet,” runs through Aug. 28 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington, DC

Food curation is often critical at festivals, but sometimes there’s slim pickings for vegan attendees.

“Food is social. I go out to a lot of events, a lot of concerts, comedy shows… with my husband, and a lot of times, we’re not finding vegan options at these events,” said Naijha Wright-Brownco-owner of Baltimore’s vegan bistro The Land of Kush,

The inaugural “We Give Black Fest” in partnership with the seventh annual “Vegan SoulFest,” meshes mainstream music with vegan food Aug. 19-21.

As co-founder of Vegan SoulFest, Wright-Brown said the weekend offers an experience where plant-based eaters can listen to mainstream artists with the guarantee of more than 40 vegan food vendors present.

The musical lineup includes: Bilal, Maimouna Youssef aka Mumu Fresh, Daley, Jade Novah, Ro James, Grey, and a host of local groups and DJs including DJ 5 Starr, Johnny Graham and the Groove, Brandon Woody and Upendoand DJ Soul,

Vegan SoulFest was created to combat the narrative that veganism is expensive and unpopular in communities of color. Through history, health education, delicious food and entertainment, Wright-Brown said she hopes to offer a “different experience toward veganism.”

“You’re going to get all of that — the impact, the experience, the food and the live entertainment vibes — all in one space.”

The weekend also coincides with CLLCTVLY’s“We Give Black Fest,” an event that aims to increase visibility and create community support for Black-owned businesses.

“We’re giving back to Black,” Wright-Brown said. “Proceeds are supporting organizations that are Black-led and you’re doing charitable work in the community.

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Teaching and music are in Tony Small’s DNA, and now that convergence is being recognized by the Recording Academy. Small is a quarterfinalist for the 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award — one of 207 educators from 180 cities.

“Honestly, a Grammy Music Educator award was never even a thought 35 years ago,” Small said. “I’m just thrilled to be nominated — it really is an honor to be recognized by peers. I’m also just really thrilled about the journey.”

Small is director at Laurel’s St. Vincent Pallotti Arts Academy, a private high school that focuses on visual arts, music, theater and dance in addition to academics. He takes pride in the generations of pupils he’s educated after more than 10 years of teaching and “creating quantitative programs over a 72-mile radius for more than 14,000 youth” at the academy and other institutions.

“There’s now not a show — Grammy Awards, Tony Award, BET awards — where I don’t recognize former artists who have come through my classes, programs, served as interns or crossed pathways as a collaborator or even employee,” said Small, who is a musician and has a daughter who is a graduate of Juilliard.

“Now that’s the greatest feeling of success.”

The finalists for the Grammy award in education will be announced in September.

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