Turners Falls RiverCulture plans monthlong arts festival for Black History Month

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/3/2016 7:16:59 PM

Black roots music is old-timey, African American blues tunes that explore stories of escape and freedom. These are simple songs, work songs that enslaved Africans sung in fields, prison blues songs meant to fill time and to express feelings of the heart. The songs are sometimes rhythmically repetitive, and always powerful.

Black roots music started with the dire circumstances of slavery in America, but it continues to evolve and is carried on today in country churches down south, in choir congregations in Harlem and by modern artists and storytellers throughout the country.

Turners Falls RiverCulture will celebrate Black History Month in February with a lineup that includes a lecture, portraits of influential African American blues and jazz artists by Franklin County and other area artists, a documentary, a workshop, a poetry reading and much more.

Events begin on Feb. 7 and run through Feb. 28.

“We groove,” says Vienna Carroll, a black roots music artist. She passionately sings the genre, which is embedded with historical narratives of African Americans, where the past and the present commingle, where rap and gospel meet, and where slavery narratives are remembered.

Carroll’s music challenges stereotypes and explores how slaves freed themselves. Carroll and her folk band are part of a wave of black musical artists, inspired by the past, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and The Ebony Hillbillies. As Carroll will say, they all share a “very fine groove.”

She is part of a vanguard that is revealing the self-determination of African Americans during slavery, and the manifestations of that spirit in today’s world.

Her music career, Carroll says, started when she was a baby. She grew up in the black church with gospel music as a constant. Now, with the help of a guitar, a fiddle, a base and a washboard, she ignites her audiences with her electrifying energy. Listeners typically sing along and are inspired.

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Harlem-based artist will bring that electrifying spirit to Turners Falls in a special appearance at the Great Falls Harvest. The show, “Folk First: Black Roots Music” starts at 7 p.m.

“Come enjoy songs from a time when you had to make music to hear it,” says Carroll.

The audience at the Turners Falls show can expect emotional intensity, humor and laughter.

“The songs have a simplicity that allows people to join in even if they don’t know them. You can feel the joy and beauty of these song,” says Carroll.

Her interest in African American culture and music brought her to Yale University, where she received her undergraduate degree in African American studies. While her formal education was valuable, another type of education took place in church among the fervent gospel singers during Sunday services. “The black church in which I was raised is the cornerstone of my musical creativity,” she says.

Her childhood was filled with song and oral history teachings by her grandparents. She recalls the lessons she learned on visits to her Alabama grandmother’s 125-acre working farm.

“Together, my childhood years in the church and my formal education serve as the foundation for my mission to shine a light on the complex truth of African American life in the antebellum era,” she says.

The musical gathering in Turners Falls is just one of many events planned by RiverCulture to promote diversity through the arts, and to educate and entertain the public in honor of Black History Month in February.

The evening at Great Falls Harvest Restaurant will also be the opening reception for the art exhibit by local artists called “Call and Response: Portraits of Influential African American Blues and Jazz Musicians.” More than 30 local artists were asked to create portraits of African American musicians central to the development of the blues and jazz. The exhibit will also be featured at The Rendezvous during February.

Then on Feb. 7, the Discovery Center in Turners Falls is hosting an art reception for “Portraits of African Americans, Past and Present,” life-sized portraits of influential African American artists by Leverett resident Louise Minks and hand-made dolls by Belinda Lyons Zucker. This event will run from 1 to 4 p.m.

Guests are asked to consider donating $5-$10 at the event on Feb. 10. Appetizers are included. To learn more about RiverCulture’s programming, visit: turnersfallsriverculture.org


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