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“Some Sing”: A Juneteenth Celebration at the Lincoln Center

Key Art by Trevor Davis

Presented here is Carl Hancock Rux's Artist Statement for his forthcoming Juneteenth celebration at Lincoln Center

"It was while singing... the idea of escaping from slavery was first suggested to my mind." —Frederick Douglass

African American music is inseparable from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the forced transportation of millions of African people across the Atlantic, who were then subjected to slavery. The cultures from which they were torn and the conditions into which they were forced both contributed to the sounds of African American music. Many of the instruments historically used in African American music, including the banjo and the drum, have antecedents in African musical instruments. Likewise, many features common to African American music have roots in African musical traditions, such as the call and response song form and an immersive approach to singing.

Slaves' lives were restricted in countless ways, including limits on literacy and property ownership. Therefore, music was passed down orally, and early records of African American music indicate that songs changed frequently, not only from singer to singer, but also from day to day when sung by the same musician. Music was a solace, a community-builder, and a voice of hope during enslavement and afterward, in the days of Reconstruction and then Jim Crow. From traditional African songs mixed with Christianity to convey double meaning, often sung during secret Hush Harbor ceremonies in secluded wooded areas, to work songs performed in prison camps, to the 1871 acapella Negro spirituals of Fisk Jubilee singers performed along the Underground Railroad and touring throughout Europe to raise money for their historically Black college, Fisk University; to the post emancipation birth of the Blues and the formation of Jazz created during the harsh realities of America, African American folk, religious and secular music traditions, including slave songs, were always infused with the purpose of sustaining the lives of enslaved peoples and their descendants as they journeyed through the deferred dream of "freedom".

Borrowing its title from the Ntozake Shange, Ifa Bayeza novel, "Some Sing, Some Cry," a rich mix of storytelling and African-American history, following seven generations of Black women who survive their hardships largely through music, this fourth Juneteenth celebration, "Some Sing" is a testament of the endurance of African Americans who dared use music to escape violence and emancipate themselves from the battle scarred history of America, bequeathing a priceless inheritance to their own descendants and anyone who wants to know the true nature of freedom as the power or right to act, speak and change circumstance without hindrance or restraint.

— Carl Hancock Rux, Juneteenth historian, artist, and curator

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