Historic Deerfield to celebrate Juneteenth through song

  • Performers at Sunday’s Juneteenth concert will include La’Shelle Allen, Eric Brown, Kathy Bullock, Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore, Tim Eriksen and the Pioneer Valley Shapenote Singers, and Christella Philippe. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2022 5:44:14 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 5:41:59 PM

DEERFIELD — Historic Deerfield is inviting residents to celebrate Juneteenth and learn about local ties to abolition through song on Sunday.

The museum is hosting “Songs of Abolition: A Juneteenth Concert Celebration at Historic Deerfield” to commemorate Juneteenth, which marks the day in 1865 when the last enslaved Americans in Texas were emancipated. The concert will feature 19th-century songs about abolition, early gospel tunes and music from a new documentary titled “Songs of Slavery and Emancipation.”

The concert will take place at the Deerfield Community Center at 16 Memorial St. The program will begin at 7 p.m. and is expected to run until 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for Historic Deerfield members and $20 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased at conta.cc/3NUZDU9.

“We very much saw the creation of a national holiday as an opportunity for us to expand our programming and the variety of stories we tell,” said Historic Deerfield President John Davis. “We’re really focusing on expanding the stories of Deerfield residents that have not always been remembered in the same way as early English colonists.”

Performers will include La’Shelle Allen, Eric Brown, Kathy Bullock, Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore, Tim Eriksen and the Pioneer Valley Shapenote Singers, and Christella Philippe. Eriksen, who is the event’s emcee, said attendees can “expect a celebration of Juneteenth with wonderful music” that has often been passed over by history.

“Like a lot of things, it kind of just got lost in the shuffle. … It’s exciting stuff that got left by the wayside, like a lot of great things,” Eriksen said.

Speaking to the power of song and how it can be so effective in telling history, Eriksen said it “gets right at people’s heartstrings” and, in the case of some songs that will be heard Sunday night, is an “expression of community, culture and aspiration.”

“I don’t know of anything that goes directly to the heart more than music does and that was part of the intention,” Eriksen said, adding that music and its emotional power were used to “impress on (people) the importance of working for freedom and justice.”

These songs, Eriksen added, are unlike the traditional, European music that is typically discussed when learning about this time period. He said American composers’ music was often considered “too country, too raucous” by their European counterparts.

“People expect music of the 18th century as being very polite and low-key, but this is very energetic,” he said. “One of the reasons we don’t hear that music more is in the 19th century, there was an effort to suppress that earlier music.”

Davis said song and music provide an opportunity for Historic Deerfield to further explore the people of Deerfield, as these “are songs that would have been sung by workers in the farms of Deerfield, in the parlors and houses of Deerfield.”

“It was a time when song was a way of communicating and passed from person to person,” Davis said. “It’s part of our attempt to resurrect oral traditions as a way of remembering what was important to various people in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

While the concert will be the main focus of the museum’s Juneteenth celebration, Davis said the museum has partnered with the Witness Stones Project, a Guilford, Connecticut-based organization that collects information about enslaved people and creates plaques to commemorate their lives. Davis said approximately one-third of houses on Historic Deerfield’s street had slaves.

“Folks should stay tuned,” he said, “because toward the end of the summer we will unveil the Witness Stones.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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