Larry Watson brings old school soul to modern audiences
The next stop for Berklee professor Larry Watson is Hibernian Hall’s Café Tatant
Talented tenor and Berklee professor Larry Watson grew up in the 1960s listening to gospel, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett. He remembers when music connected with moments in people’s lives and made them feel something powerful.
“Our music has gone so far into the abyss,” Watson said. “Cultural expression is the DNA of a people. If not done right, music can be used to completely demoralize an entire culture.”
Watson and Workforce 2000 will be performing at Café Tatant in Hibernian Hall next Thursday. The spirited academic and true music lover hails from Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and spends time trying to touch the lives of others.
He mentors young people and is a firm believer in the old adage “teach one, reach one.”
“I had a friend who told me that every time she saw me, I was going off about something,” Watson recalled. “She told me: ‘You know what, instead of going off about everything, pick two or three students and try to help them.’ ”
He took her advice and began to focus on the young people around him. He founded SaveOurSelves Productions and Consulting. According to its mission statement, the group is “committed to preserving, promoting, and creating an atmosphere that confirms the rich legacy and contributions made by people of color in music, politics, labor, education and popular American culture.”
Next Thursday he plans to shine the spotlight on a Puerto Rican drummer from Florida named Victor Hernandez and a pianist from Maryland, Calvin Brown.
“You have to pass the baton,” Watson said. “I like to give new, up-and-coming performers a platform. If you can’t give them a platform with your name, then what are you really doing?”
It’s befitting that he will be performing as part of Hibernian Hall’s celebration of Juneteenth. Though African Americans are free from slavery, Watson says that he is still concerned about the mini-acts of aggression blacks face. He tries to combat those with his music.
On his CD “American Fruit with African Roots,” the former Assistant Dean at Harvard University’s School of Design sings about reparations, police prejudice, lynchings and institutional racism.
Watson — who was arrested in the 1990s and believes he was a victim of what became known as “driving while black” — is concerned with racial and social injustices and consistently challenges wrongdoing with vigor. His bout with discrimination at Harvard University is referenced in law professor and author Derrick Bell’s 1994 bestseller, “Confronting Authority.”
He received the Drylongso Award from the Community Change organization for his contributions in the struggle against racism in 1996 and the Alvin E. Thompson Civil Rights Award for his outstanding leadership and promotion of community empowerment from the Cambridge chapter of the NAACP in 2001.
The pain he says he has endured pokes through from time to time. When talking about his arrest, for instance, anger, hurt and sadness creep into his conversation. But Watson said he is extremely optimistic about the future.
“My band Workforce 2000 is a group of people that represent America today,” Watson said. “I wanted to show a kaleidoscope of musicians.”
He plans on covering some of music’s great performers like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and others.
“The audience is going to experience a night of ‘H.E.M.’ music. Highly emotional music that will place them back in time to remember Luther Vandross, Nancy Wilson, Peabo Bryson and Quincy Jones,” Watson said. “Back when music spoke the socio-political climate. Nurturing and entertaining at the same time. I’m going to cover the gamut.”
Dinner is served at 7:30 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m. Cash bar. Single ticket: $16; Meal and show combo: $32; Combo for two: $60.
As special guests during intermission, performers of “Rachel and Sybil at the Stonewall Inn” present musical vignettes recalling the Stonewall Riots of 1969 as part of the Neighborhood Pride Tour sponsored by Theater Offensive.