On June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln had signed the document. The day became known as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, and its celebrations over the years have centered on community, education and food. On Friday, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan commemorates its legacy with “Juneteenth: Creating Legacy in Contested Places,” which interprets the cultural contributions of formerly enslaved African-Americans in their quest for freedom — not only from slavery, but from the limitations placed on their artistic freedoms.
The afternoon event will explore the history of Juneteenth in a discussion among Dr. Andrea Roberts, the founder of the Texas Freedom Colonies Project; two descendants of members of those colonies; and Therese Nelson, a culinary historian. Carla Hall, chef, television personality and author of “Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes From Around the World,” will offer a Juneteenth celebration through food. Rootstock Republic, a collective of string players of color, will also appear, performing a remix of the famous Billie Holiday number “Strange Fruit,” a song that presents a compelling portrayal of black lynchings.
The Schomburg Center will also mark the occasion by updating its recently released Black Liberation Reading List to include books for kids and teens, while also hosting programs with black authors throughout the day on their social media channels.
“Juneteenth: Creating Legacy in Contested Places” starts at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Register at Eventbrite to receive a Zoom link, or watch the simulcast on the Schomburg Center’s YouTube channel.
On the eve of Mother’s Day this year, the singer Jill Scott lit candles, poured a glass of wine and hopped on Instagram Live to meet more than 700,000 friends and admirers. The occasion: a face-off with Erykah Badu, organized as part of the livestream series Verzuz, which pits hip-hop and R&B stars against each another in D.J. battles during which they spin their own hits.
The brainchild of the producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, Verzuz has made an impressive effort to fill the cultural void created by the lockdown. This weekend, a new installment of the series will feature a pair of crowd-pleasing crooners: John Legend and Alicia Keys (who is married to Swizz Beatz).
The premise of the “battle” is loosely defined, and neither of these contestants is known for a barbed tongue. The tone of the gathering is likely to be more communal than combative — in fact, it was scheduled for Friday to coincide with Juneteenth celebrations.
Catch the battle on Verzuz’s Instagram page, beginning on Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Celebrity cameos are a hallmark of these meet-ups, so be sure to keep an eye on the comments section.
Normally set outdoors in the city’s public parks, SummerStage is moving online this year. Throughout Friday, the festival will honor the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth with a digital dance celebration organized by SummerStage’s longtime dance curator, Danni Gee. The program highlights an intergenerational group of African-American dancers and choreographers, some of whom have long engaged with themes of racial justice in their work.
Beginning at noon Eastern time, the festival’s Instagram page will host recorded performances by groups like the Black Iris Project, a ballet collective founded by Jeremy McQueen; the Brooklyn-based company Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, whose artistic director just won the annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; and the renowned tappers Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia and Derick K. Grant. The Instagram portion of the day culminates in an excerpt from “Witness,” a contemporary ballet by Christopher Rudd of RudduR Dance.
At 7 p.m., the programming shifts over to YouTube for a panel discussion led by the dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as well as a performance of “Hanging Tree,” featuring Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Theater, the vocalist Marcelle Davies-Lashley and the poet Carl Hancock Rux. For the day’s full schedule, go to cityparksfoundation.org/events/juneteenth.
Missing the Tonys? Try the Antonyos
Earlier this month, the Tony Awards might have highlighted what was a banner year for black theater artists on Broadway. Robert O’Hara, Adrienne Warren and Jeremy O. Harris might have received statuettes. Instead the ceremony has been postponed indefinitely because of the pandemic.
Fortunately, black actors, playwrights, directors, designers and others will be celebrated at the first Antonyo Awards, the creation of Drew Shade, founder of Broadway! Black, an organization that highlights African-American achievement in theater. Reacting to how few black artists win theater awards, Shade decided last month, before the George Floyd protests began, to produce the Antonyos.
The ceremony, which dispenses with gendered acting categories, will air on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Broadway! Black’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Speaking over the phone from Birmingham, Ala., Shade expressed his delight in the lineup of presenters and performers, which includes Audra McDonald, Alex Newell and Tituss Burgess.
“I’ve seen artists I admire talk about being proud of being Antonyo nominees,” Shade said. The Antonyos will also include a virtual red carpet at 6 p.m.: “It’s part of the joy of an awards ceremony,” he added, “getting dressed up, ready to celebrate.”
Funny Voices for Serious Change
Before Black Lives Matter became a movement, D.L. Hughley brought new light to the hostility that black people continue to experience in a 2012 Peabody Award-winning Comedy Central special, “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List.” In it, Hughley talks with lobbyists, gang members and a neo-Nazi, and enlists young white women (including a then-unknown Ilana Glazer) to help him gather signatures in Union Square for a petition to put black men on the endangered species list. The cable network brought Hughley’s special out from beyond its pay wall last week, posting it on YouTube to raise money for the Bail Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative.
Meanwhile, the comedians Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle started a new show on Tuesday, “Call & Response,” in which they invite their favorite black performers and activists to discuss the Black Lives Matter protests and how to transform their art and activism into palpable change. It’s a bit more serious than their previous collaboration, the Comedy Central showcase “The New Negroes,” or Vaughn’s new gig as host of “The Great Debate” on Syfy; nonetheless, it is engaging and topical. “Call & Response” livestreams daily on weekdays at 3 p.m. Eastern time on Funny or Die’s and Blavity’s channels on YouTube, and on Twitter, Facebook and Twitch.
SEAN L. McCARTHY
Bullying is one childhood menace that can still flourish in social isolation. On Saturday, the French Institute Alliance Française will explore the problem with a play presented online, where taunts and exclusion continue to hurt.
At 11 a.m. Eastern time on Zoom and Facebook, the institute will livestream “She No Princess, He No Hero,” about a boy and a girl who don’t conform to gender roles. Marleny Heredia will play Leïli, who embraces hunting, hiking outfits and a buzz cut, and Zan VaiLento will portray Nils, who wears his hair long and doesn’t like sports. Conceived by the director Johanny Bert and based on a text by the playwright Magali Mougel, the free 40-minute show reaches its dramatic climax in a fourth-grade classroom, where contemptuous peers falsely accuse Leïli and Nils of cheating during a scavenger hunt.
Performed in English, the virtual production, which slightly blends the play’s twin monologues, will be even more interactive than the 2019 stage version. Children who register to attend can vote on words, props and songs for the actors to include. Audience members on Zoom can also respond to questions that the characters pose and join a post-show discussion. What may emerge is the realization that ostracized students can find strength just by banding together.
Where You Can Still Ride Mazzoli’s ‘Waves’
When the coronavirus cut the Metropolitan Opera’s season short, the raft of cancellations included the company’s planned performances of Missy Mazzoli’s celebrated “Breaking the Waves” at Brooklyn Academy of Music. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still see her potent adaptation of the Lars von Trier film, in which mysteries of carnality and faith are elaborately entwined.
Mazzoli’s breakthrough opera, featuring a libretto by Royce Vavrek, is available to stream free through August, courtesy of Opera Philadelphia (the institution that premiered the work in 2016). Anyone familiar with the source material won’t be surprised by the plot mechanics of this faithful adaptation. But what can still electrify a listener is the skill with which Mazzoli’s sounds meet and enhance those narrative beats.
The weightiness of von Trier’s story arc is signaled right away, with the occasional solemn glissando or a rest that halts the music’s momentum. But there is also real sensuality in the motifs. The lovers’ ecstatic early scenes are easy to believe, thanks to Mazzoli’s orchestral imagination, as well as to the committed performances by the soprano Kiera Duffy and the baritone John Moore. This staging should whet appetites for Mazzoli’s next adaptation — of George Saunders’s novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” — which is set for a future Met Opera season.
SETH COLTER WALLS