An evening of shout-outs begins with Maureen Mahon, who was the chief academic advisor for this five-night concert series: a series of performances designed to celebrate and tribute the “family-tree” of African American music. Welcomed on stage as bebop trumpet phenomenon, and also the series’ Chief Music Advisor, was 86-year-old Quincy Jones, who gets up from his wheelchair and greets the anticipating audience with a light-hearted “’sup y’all?”, setting the tone for the rest of the night. As soon as the opening speeches conclude, the sound of synthetic keys takes over, and the plywood-looking stage doors simultaneously slide open to reveal a full stage band, The GP Experience, named after the band’s lead, Greg Phillinganes. The 12-bar rock-and-roll boogie seemingly sends a buzz of energy through the venue, as people began to groove.
On a high note, Eryn Allen Kaye, the first act, makes a bold entrance with a blast of emotional power in her voice and the stage presence to match. The other main acts —in order of appearance— were Keyon Harold, Moses Sumney, Tamar-kali, and Phony Ppl. Of the main acts, acclaimed trumpeter, composer and producer, Keyon Harold, took the helm. Harold delivers goose-bumps on multiple occasions during his performance of Miles Davis’ All Blues. The stage lights cast a 30ft shadow of Harold with his trumpet, a classic visual for the backdrop. Harold’s sweat on the trumpet dripped, and he was hypnotic. Joined by a string quartet, Harold dedicates the next performance to Mike Brown and his family, and all the others who were victims of gun violence.
In between acts, The GP Experience kept the vibes up by playing crowd-pleasing soul-funk-pop classics. With a blues ensemble during one changeover, blues poet, Aja Monet, offered a mesmerizing spoken performance that finished with the line: “How we witnessed the horror of mankind and did not become that which horrified us.”
A stand-out performance was then given to us by Tamar-kali, who opened with a ring shout, specific to St. Helena Island of the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Polyrhythmic beats were carried out by Tamar-kali’s stomping feet and a stick that would strike the floorboards whilst she sang. Tamar-kali’s vocal ability kept on surprising the audience, as her singing style spanned from chants to soul to heavy rock.
The evening ended with a cover of Prince’s Purple Rain including Phony Ppl, The GP Experience and sung by Cory Henry (who performed in Soundtrack of America: Night 3). Afterwards, Steve McQueen joins the stage with Maureen Mahon and Quincy Jones at the end to give closing remarks, and to also dedicate the night to Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian art critic, who passed away last month. Soundtrack of America’s celebration of African American influence on modern music, executed by today’s generation of emerging artists was carefully thought-out and successfully carried out. It will be interesting to see which direction Mahon will take next, and in what form!