Tag Archives: Our Native Daughters

Our Native Daughters: The Sequel

Exactly 3 years ago — July 23, 2019 — the Levitt Pavilion made a bit of history.

Our Native Daughters — 4 gifted women who reclaim 1800s minstrel music, with power and pride — kicked off their summer tour here.

The next day, the group performed at The Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. Another tour stop was the Newport Folk Festival.

Spurred by a MacArthur “genius grant,” and with banjos, other instruments and willowy, jazzy and soulful phrasing, Our Native Daughters redefine roots music. Long the purview of whites wearing blackface, they seize it back, showing how storytelling and songs from Black women have been the bedrock of the African American family, from antebellum America to the present.

Our Native Daughters

A crew from the Smithsonian Channel was at the Levitt 3 years ago, to film this show.

The 2021 trailer features the pavilion right at the start:

The Smithsonian has now released the full documentary. It’s available on several platforms, including Paramount+ and Amazon.

But the Levitt is hardly living in the past.

Allison Russell — one of Our Native Daughters’ founding members — returns here on August 21. Her show is part of the “Stars on Tour” series.

On her Grammy-nominated debut solo album, “Outside Child,” Russell shared the story of her abusive childhood in a moving song-cycle of courage, empathy, hope and love.

She made history as the first Black artist to win a Juno for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. The New York Times named it the #2 Best Album of the Year, and the song “Nightflyer” made Barack Obama’s annual list of favorites.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

Allison Russell

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.)