Press enter after choosing selection

University Musical Society Diversifies

University Musical Society Diversifies image
Parent Issue
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

For most of its 116years, the focus of the University Musical Society (UMS) has been heavily Eurocentric. African dancers and Japanese Kodo drummers have appeared occasionally, more or less as museum pieces, isolated curiosities.This month, however, the UMS is bringing to Ann Arbor three very impressive African-American acts: Sweet Honey In The Rock, Ruth Brown, and the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. And all this from the folks who regularly bring us Julian Bream, Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and other high-caliber classical artists.

"Diversificatlon doesn't happen overnight," says Executive Director Ken Fischer. "It's a sensitization process, a growing process." The Society's plan for this process took over two years to develop, with contributions from its original minority members and a paid consultant.
As examples of a shift in emphasis, Fischer cites recent UMS concerts by Nusrat Fateh All Khan, an Indo-Pakistani singer; Jester Hairston, composer of the gospel hymn "Amen"; and the Uptown String Quartet, an improvisational jazz ensemble starring Maxine Roach.

Sweet Honey in the Rock
The UMS opens its Winter Season with Sweet Honey in the Rock on Friday Jan. 6, at Hill Auditorium. The UMS first brought this a cappella group, an Ann Arbor favorite, to the Power Center in Jan. '93, where its close harmonies, bone-deep honesty and quirky , dynamic beats created a strong personal rapport with the audience. One concert-goer described the scene as "a living-room with 3,000 people in it."
Six African-American women make up Sweet Honey. They sing and dance, and since 1980 one member has provided sign-language interpretation for the deaf. Lyrics deal with justice and exclusion, liberation and love; stirring issues that touch us all.
Numerous tapes of the group are available, though none of them convey the electricity of Sweet Honey's live performances. Sometimes. at women's gatherings, songs break out spontaneously, living samples of this group's work. That work's intimacy and immediacy calis out to be experienced directly, again and again.

Ruth Brown
Blues vocalist Ruth Brown takes possession of the Power Center on Saturday Jan. 14. Irresistible, irrepressible Ruth Brown's mid-January date is bound to generate some welcome heat. Brown's been around the music scene since the late 40s. "So Long," her debut on Atlantic Records, soared to Number Six on Billboard's brand new Rhythm & Blues chart. "Teardrops From My Eyes," "5-10-15 Hours," "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," and "Mambo Baby" all made it to Number One. Brown's rich yet flexible tone, her assertive phrasing and that catchy little excited sounding squeal that popped out every now and then made her the top-selling black female artist of the early 50s.
Now touring with a hand-picked six-piece band, complete with saxophones, Brown's been serving up the blues and ballads she began with as well as the R & B titles that got her inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Recent reviews describe her concerts as spanning "...the very width and breadth of pop music in the last half of the century." That's a lot of ground to cover. But Brown's got the voice and the experience to pull it off, and the style and spirit to make her audiences rise to their feet in fervent thanks for the attempt.

The Harlem Spiritual Ensemble
Finally, the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble presents a free performance on Sunday Jan. 15, in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Six classically trained singers, a pianist and a percussionist will do their very best to reproduce the authentic voice of the American Negro Spiritual.
Purists in the best sense of the word, members of the Ensemble refuse to "whitewash" lyrics. Lawd is lawd, not lord, and de ribber never becomes the river. By transferring their respect for tradition from European to African-American forms, this group showcases the spiritual's glorious harmonies and vibrant rhythms at their natural best.
This internationally acclaimed group, beloved of both Harlem school-children and Finnish connoisseurs of the arts, will be performing as part of U-M's 1995 King Symposium. It's a very special event - the culmination of several years of effort on the part of the UMS.
In 1988 Ken Fischer joined the King Commemoration Committee. Always concerned to avoid "colonizing" the committee , Fischer has worked closely with Charles Moody, Lester Monts and other African-Americans to present artists from their cultural heritage: Kathleen Battle in 1989, Leontyne Price in 1991, and the Urban Bushwomen in 1993. "Now," says Fischer, "it's reached the point where there's a real give and take of ideas. The Harlem Spiritual Ensemble is actually a co-presentation by the UMS and the Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives."

For ticket Information, contact the University Musical Society at 764-2538.