Hallelujah! Amen! Rejoice in your ancestors, their sacrifices, their accomplishments and beliefs! Celebrate your Black pride, talent and love and pass on information on Juneteenth to our young people–those where the messages I received this past Saturday on Juneteenth, as I attended the inaugural “Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth,” a free event presented by the Broadway League’s Multi-Cultural Task Force outside on Broadway, between 43rd and 44th Streets. The Multi-Cultural Task Force is co-chaired by Aaliytha Stevens and Brian Moreland. The Broadway League bought together gifted, exuberant and wonderful Black stars from the Broadway productions of “The Lion King,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Girl From The North Country,” “Caroline, Or Change,” “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” “Moulin Rouge,” and “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” I absolutely feel renewed in spirit when we celebrate our people! June 19,,1862, known as Juneteenth, is when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, freeing the slaves. This year President Biden officially declared it a Federal holiday, which is fantastic news! But how does one celebrate?
For 90 minutes I experienced unbridled energy, love, talent and wisdom, shared as Black Broadway performers sang songs to mark this occasion and honor our people! The wisdom came with Tony Award winner and Broadway icon Ben Vereen speaking about Juneteenth and reading the “Emancipation Proclamation”. He read it as a “Black” Abraham Lincoln, which was entertaining, but he also kept stressing that today was a day to acknowledge our ancestors and all that our people have had to overcome and are still overcoming. Vereen was passionate about the next generations understanding the significance of this day!
The event was hosted by Tony Award winner Lillias White, who was adorned in lovely African attire from head to toe. You could feel the ancestors’ presence as the performers took to the stage and shared their delight in being there and performers to honor our people. And honor they did!
The program opened with Lauren Reid, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Broadway League talking about “Black to Broadway”, the initiative that was begun in 2019 through the Multi-Cultural Task Force. “It’s an industry-wide celebration of the Black community. The League is committed to promoting anti-racist practices and advance BIPOC professional,” Reid explained. In fact, Black to Broadway wants to promote Blacks on stage, in the audience, behind the scenes and as leaders in the Broadway community.
Next Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin announced that the Broadway League already has 20 programs and initiatives and more coming to promote inclusion. She encouraged attendees to visit the League’s website to get more information. She also announced that Broadway performances will begin June 26! She then introduced Gennean Scott, the new, Black, female director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Broadway League.
When the performances began it was a stunning lineup. Jacqueline Arnold and Anastacia McCleskey admonished the audience to remember our ancestors–their struggles, strength and love. “We celebrate their joy because we feel it. Here’s to the joy of all Black people around the world,” remarked Arnold. Then they triumphantly delivered “Lift Every Voice,” displaying a reverence for our ancestor, joy and power.
White poured libations for the ancestors and she called out the names of some of her ancestors as she poured and encouraged the audience to do the same, which we did. This event truly feed the soul! “Broadway is celebrating Juneteenth, this is major you’ll,” said White. Causing the audience to burst into applause and shouts!
Janinah Burnett utilized her magnificent operatic voice to sing “Someday We’ll All Be Free” in a way you have never heard it before. It gave me chills! Playwright Keenan Scott II, who will have his new play “Thoughts of a Colored Man” open on Broadway this fall at the Golden Theater, performed one of the monologues from the drama entitled “May I Sit Down.” It is a love poem to a beautiful Black woman, full of praise for this gorgeous being.
Vereen then took to the podium and said, “We need to teach to our children—remove the shackles form our minds and let them be free.” He partially quoted “Lift Every Voice” and let everyone know “It’s not over! We still have a ways to go!”
Kimber Elayne Sprawl & Friends did a marvelous performance of “Blowing in the Wind.” Stanley Martin had a smooth jazz vibe as he performed, “Feeling Good.” Andre Jordan was powerful, spiritual, uplifting, touching and performed with tremendous heart as he sang “Redemption Song.” Nick Rashad Burroughs gave an intense and impressive performance of “Freedom.” L. Steven Taylor and Soloman Dumas mesmerized the audience as Taylor did an original spoken word piece and Dumas danced. White talked about people like Frederick Douglass, John Brown and kept singing “Keep Your Hand On The Plow—Hold On” to talk about the resilience of Black people. It was so moving! Bongi Duma & Friends had everyone feeling the spirit and dancing in their seats, as well as going to a common area and dancing as they performed “African Sunset.” Lavon Fischer Wilson did “Motown Fun!” singing parts from a couple of Motown songs and having a lot of fun. Richard Riaz Yoder did a fantastic tribute to the tap-dancing ancestors as he sang and then tapped to “Fabulous Feet!” Lawrence Alexander vibrantly sang and danced to “It’s The Rhythm.” Anastacia McCleskey lead in singing “Stay” and this Lady can SANGGG! Jacqueline Arnold sang “This Land is My Home.” Crystal Joy gave everyone sheer joy as she performed “Higher Ground.” Press agent for over 50, Irene Gandy was honored. Gandy shared, “I’m the Sojourner Truth of Broadway, been here 50 years. I stood on the shoulders of Douglass Turner Ward, I worked with producers like Voza Rivers…I may die, but I’m going to die like a shooting star.” Britton Smith and The Sting were on fire as they sang “What If The World Burned Tonight” and “Black Sabbath.” White sent chills through the soul as she sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” She did it the only way she knows how, with love, faith, joy and brilliance! When White was done the “church said Amen!”
Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth was sponsored by MAC Cosmetics and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS with the support of the Times Square Alliance. It was directed by Steve Broadnax, had musical direction by Daryl Waters, Nzinga Williams as general manager and Cody Renard Richard as stage manager. Please make it your goal to get back to Broadway! Our people are there and we are fabulous!