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New England Conservatory’s Black Student Union celebrates the King legacy

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
New England Conservatory’s Black Student Union celebrates the King legacy
Black Student Union members Naledi Masilo, Paul Mardy, Robyn Smith and Evan Wright. PHOTO: ANDREW HURLBUT

On Feb. 20, the New England Conservatory’s Black Student Union (BSU) will perform “Continuation of a Dream: The Dream Reimagined…,” a tribute concert to NEC alumna Coretta Scott King. This year, the free concert strays from the classic musical foundations of the NEC to create a multidisciplinary art experience celebrating black culture.

Each year the BSU board, composed currently of Naledi Masilo, Robyn Smith, Paul Mardy and Evan Wright, plans the tribute concert to be performed during Black History Month. “Continuation of a Dream” examines what Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous dream looks like in a contemporary context. Dancers, artists and even Boston poet laureate Porsha Olayiwola join the musicians on stage to tell this story.

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“Especially in this conservatory, where minorities really are a minority, we’re trying to think of ways to bring blackness into this space and to experience this space differently,” says Masilo. “We really want to create a space where all forms of art can exist together in the same way, all forms of people can exist in the same spaces in harmony, each looking different but each being of the same significance.”

Not only will the show boast artists of all kinds, the musical selections include performances by NEC’s Gospel and West African ensembles. Spirituals will make an appearance along with work by William Grant Still and Angelique Kidjo. The goal is to represent the widespread art forms of the African diaspora. Perhaps most exciting, Masilo says the team dug through the archives to find musical selections Coretta Scott King herself performed at NEC. A member of the BSU will perform a few of these pieces during the concert.

Masilo is from South Africa and says that she experienced a bit of culture shock coming from a place where black artists were prevalent and celebrated to the United States, where they’re kept on the periphery. This concert allows her and the rest of the BSU to bring black composers, musicians, artists and activists to the center stage. “Continuation of a Dream” isn’t just an evening to celebrate Coretta Scott King’s legacy and Black History Month. It’s an opportunity to start a wave of change in the staunchly classical program of the conservatory.

“Right now, especially in the conservatory, which is highly classically based, we don’t hear a lot of black music. Even in the jazz department,” says Masilo. “We’re trying to get people to reimagine what America can look like, what a society where everyone has a voice can look like, what a society where everyone has an equal opportunity can look like.”

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