Celebrate Juneteenth

Tuesday June 06, 2023

Corey Harris

REGIONAL – Major Gen. Gordon Granger could hardly have imagined that 156 years after he delivered the news that slaves were free to the people of Texas, the event would be turned into a national holiday called Juneteenth.
Nor could the Union general and hero of the Battle of Chattanooga have believed that two years after the holiday was created, a celebrated black guitarist, songwriter and singer of soulful blues would bring his musical talents to entertain a mostly white audience in another port city on the North Shore of Massachusetts 2,000 miles away from Galveston.
Nor would he expect that the concert would be held in a church, much like where the former slaves in Galveston went to celebrate their new-found freedom.
Corey Harris, a MacArthur Fellow, who has played with BB King and other top musicians, will perform at the Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High Street, Newburyport, as part of its Roots Music series. The concert begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.
And that’s not all of the Juneteenth events scheduled here. In collaboration with the Roots Music Series, the Screening Room in downtown Newburyport will premiere a new film, When Houston Had the Blues, which documents a long-overlooked music scene in Texas that included black performers such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Clifton Chenier, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Big Mama Thornton.
Note: Thornton recorded Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog three years before anyone heard of a Mississippi singer named Elvis Presley.
The film, which will be shown at 7 p.m. on June 19, will be followed by a Skype interview with director Alan Swyer and moderated by Edward Carson, the dean of multicultural education at Governor’s Academy and the host of the program, Race Matters, on WJOP, the community radio station.
Half of the $10 admission to the film will be donated to Community Change, an organization promoting racial justice and equity by challenging systemic racism and acting as a catalyst for anti-racist learning and action in the greater Boston area.
WJOP will also broadcast and stream on its web site 24 hours of music by black performers, songwriters and composers with some poetry interspersed between 6 a.m. Saturday, June 17, to 6 a.m. Sunday, June 18. The station, following the lead of its director Sarah Hayden, worked with the Roots team to coordinate the Juneteenth events.
When Corey Harris, who has recorded 20 albums, won the so-called “genius award” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2007, he was described as an artist who “forges an adventurous path marked by deliberate eclecticism.”
In 2003, Harris was a featured artist and narrator of the Martin Scorcese film, Feel Like Going Home, which traced the evolution of blues music from West Africa to the southern U.S.
Harris has incorporated musical influences, like Reggae, from his experiences in West Africa into his blues, said Ken Irwin, co-founder of the Roots Music Series.
Irwin said he is looking forward to the concert because few performers today play the blues solo like Harris does. He plays in bands and is a band leader, but will perform solo at Belleville with his acoustic guitar and Piedmont-style guitar picking.
“He is a very emotive singer, very soulful,” Irwin said.
Harris said recently that he is not really in the entertainment business. “The blues involves a deeper mission, and that includes weighing in when there is something timely that needs to be said.
“As an African living in America, as a descendant of slaves that built this country, I am looking at the survival mechanisms that have existed for people to persevere in difficult times. And when we think about that, the blues always comes to mind,” he said.
His latest album, Insurrection Blues, of 20, continues a musical journey that began with his debut album, Between Midnight and Day, in 1995. The songs are full of topical relevance, yet are steeped in tradition and informed by his musical explorations over the decades.
“When I saw the (January 6) insurrection, I saw how race and history collided there. For instance, the way that the black Capitol police were being assaulted physically. The symbolism of that was quite heavy, particularly since it was a black man who saved the life of (U.S. Sen.) Mitt Romney by delaying the entry of the aggressors.”
For more information on the Harris concert and to buy tickets, visit bellevilleroots.org. For more information on the Screening Room film, visit www.newburyportmovies.com.

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