JCAL, JPAC celebrate Black History Month

JCAL, JPAC celebrate Black History Month
By Merle Exit

A free film screening, a theatrical performance and a concert highlight Black History Month at Jamaica Center for the Performing Arts and the Jamaica Center for Learning.

“Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China” is a film about three successful black siblings who discover their heritage as they trace their long-lost grandfather, Samuel Lowe. Their journey takes them from Toronto, Canada, all the way to China, where they are reunited with hundreds of Chinese relatives, but not without a stop in Jamaica along the way.

The film will be screened at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.

“We are happy to be able to offer this free screening of ‘Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China’,” said JCAL director Cathy Hung. “It offers a completely different view of black in America. Ultimately, it is a story about how we are all related and we are all from the same place.”

Musical stylings as diverse as gospel, rhythm and blues, bluegrass and original Negro spirituals, with an infusion of American folk music highlight the Children’s Theater Company’s production of “Henry ‘Box’ Brown” on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Mehr Mansuri, director of the theater company, wrote the book and lyrics to this historic performance that tells the true story of an 1850s Virginia slave who shipped himself to freedom in a box. Mansuri also co-composed most of the 19 songs with Frank Sanchez.

“We pay homage by weaving in some of the heart-stopping Negro spirituals, sung by the creme de la creme of gospel music from the world-renowned Christian Cultural Center, a massive megachurch in Brooklyn,” said Mansuri.

Mansuri chose Henry “Box” Brown because he wanted to tell a story about the triumph of the human spirit, where sacrifice was made by both whites and blacks for the greater good.

“Henry is also a story teller and a musician and a man of faith, so it was much more organic to produce original songs within a ‘musical’ model. Because he was also a man of great faith in God, it was a perfect excuse to weave in the songs of faith and perseverance that embodied the Negro spirituals,” Mansuri said. “We wanted to give homage to those nameless, faceless musicians and orators who created those amazing songs, arguably the founders of American music.”

Mansuri is co-directing this epic with Tony winner Ben Harney, who was in the original Broadway run of “Dreamgirls.”

“Mr. Harney is, among other things, an African-American music historian,” Mansuri said. “He has led the research and musical execution of the original Negro spirituals that infuse the show. While not credited as a writer for the show, he is credited as a music dramaturge, ensuring the accuracy of non-original/public domain Negro spirituals.”

“Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” is a Langston Hughes project scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Jamaica Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. “Ask Your Mama” is an homage to social and artistic freedom movements that began in the 1960s. The concert will feature the Ron McCurdy Quartet.

“We want to be able to celebrate Black History in a diverse approach and offer an opportunity for the family to celebrate together,” said Hung.

Langston Hughes scored this 12-part epic poem with musical cues from gospel songs, boogie-woogie, blues, Dixieland, Latin “cha cha” and bebop as well as German lieder, Jewish liturgy and West Indian calypso. This multi-media masterwork was left unperformed at his death.