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Celebrate the music of New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 23 at Berklee

Berklee College of Music presents ‘Gumbo Stories: A Black History Celebration Concert’

Scott Haas
Celebrate the music of New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 23 at Berklee
Gregory Groover, Jr. PHOTO: JAMIE KAHN

Berklee College of Music is celebrating the cultural past and present of New Orleans with an eclectic evening of song, dance and instrumentation on Thursday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center. “Gumbo Stories: A Black History Celebration Concert,” part of the school’s Signature series, is designed to immerse audiences into music in more ways than one. Gregory Groover Jr., the new assistant chair of the college’s Ensemble Department, is helping to produce the event, which includes performances by students and faculty in jazz ensembles, a gospel choir and dance.

“We want to celebrate and revere the traditions and legacy of New Orleans,” Groover tells the Banner, “to recognize that the city offers a deep level of imagination and culture. To do that, we will have performers doing standards like, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ but we’ll also have newer standards that reflect the city as it is today.”

As such, the celebratory night is inclusive. The goals are to identify and exemplify the ongoing power of a city to create music rooted in both its history and contemporary challenges. New music continues to emerge from New Orleans with a vibrancy remarkably specific to the city, while still very much its own iteration based on the lives of its current artists. Few cities have as rich a musical legacy and contemporary state of incubation.

“How we can thread the needle is the task,” says Groover. “To do that, we will have jazz bands, a gospel choir, dancers led by Raul Cruz and a D.J. tribute. Several modes of music will be happening.”

The concert will include performances of “We Made It” by Bishop S. Morton, “Brother Jake” by the Neville Brothers and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” by P.J. Morton. A DJ tribute will make note of hip-hop music performed these days.

Old and new, the mingling that exemplifies New Orleans has contributed to the artistry of varied musicians. The city is not a static musical museum; rather, it continues to create an atmosphere where music is made and grown.

“There’s a natural, rhythmic pace in the music of New Orleans,” Groover says. “From the African rhythms and Congo beat of Congo Square to bounce and hip-hop, there’s definitely a correlation. Just as importantly, think of the artists who came through New Orleans: Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Christian Scott, the Marsalis family and Lil Wayne.”

The artistic history of New Orleans is a cornerstone of Black musical history of the United States. The musical connection of New Orleans to Berklee is clear in the ways the mosaic of music informs knowledge taught and acquired at the school, as well as in what students from that city and adjacent regions bring to the school.

“We have students at Berklee, some from the South, who come here with great ideas, musicians eager to perfect their craft,” says Groover. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the values of their cultures. Not to assimilate, but to ensure that their traditions live on.”

The evening will be hosted by Emmett G. Pierce III, dean of the Africana Studies Division, and Abria Smith, director of city and community engagement.

Admission is $15–20 in advance and $20–25 day of show. Tickets are available online and at the Berklee box office. This is a seated event.