Minstrel History Comes To Levitt

As chair of TEAM Westport — our multicultural commission — Harold Bailey thinks a lot about how our town addresses race.

The topic is everywhere nationally, from politics and policing to religion and sports. Some discussions are superficial; others, quite nuanced.

Westport is not the most racially diverse place on the planet. But we are tied inextricably to the national conversation.

The recent “Remembered…” exhibition at the Westport Historical Society revealed — with stark photos, words and artificats — that kidnapped, enslaved Africans were critical to the founding and growth of this place.

Bailey says that Our Native Daughters do something similar on a national scale, for American music. Conceived by 4 gifted women, and spurred by a MacArthur “genius grant,” the group reclaims minstrel music of the 1800s from the tropes generated by whites wearing blackface. The quartet redefines that music, through its African-American roots.

In the process, Bailey says, “they vividly portray the ways in which the enduring storytelling and bonds from black women have been the bedrock of the African-American family, from antebellum America to the present.”

Our Native Daughters

That’s powerful stuff. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m.), Westport gets a chance to see and hear it in an intimate setting.

Our Native Daughters perform a special, ticketed concert at the Levitt Pavilion. TEAM Westport and the WHS co-sponsor the event.

We’re in great company. The next day, the group performs at The Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. On Sunday they’ll be at the Newport Folk Festival.

The Levitt date actually launches Our Native Daughters’ tour. A crew from the Smithsonian Channel will be on hand to film this show.

NPR says Leyla McCalla’s delivery is “characterized by willowy sereneness and subtly jazzy phrasing,” Allison Russell’s by “feathery, softhearted trills and curlicues,” Amythyst Kiah’s by “flintily soulful resonance,” and Rhiannon Giddens’ by “lithe expressiveness and regal bearing.”

Banjos are key. But all 4 women play several instruments.

The Levitt is well known for the variety and quality of its programming. Rock, blues, military bands, kids’ music, comedians — in over 40 years, audiences have seen it all.

Seldom however has there been a concert with historical significance, one that can promote reflection and dialogue at such a fraught time in our nation’s history.

The Levitt is a relaxing, wonderful place of summer entertainment. On Tuesday, Our Native Daughters’ artful, eye- and ear-opening music takes us to a new place.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

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