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Music Education at Langston Hughes Project Performance

Music Education at Langston Hughes Project Performance

The opportunity to study history, especially one's own ethnicity, family or culture, is a worthy activity. In February, when Black History Month celebrations and appreciation is seemingly at its highest visibility, it's a wise idea to take in that information, learn from it and share it. On Tuesday night, it was a bonus to have it presented at the University of San Diego's Hahn University Center Forums.

Langston Hughes album

The Torero Program Board hosted The Langston Hughes Project, an event where the audience was treated to a performance art concert by University of Southern California Professor Ron McCurdy and a trio of supporting musicians.

McCurdy, alternating playing jazz trumpet, doing spoken word and interacting with the audience, performed selections from Hughes' Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. Hughes, an American poet, social activist, novelist and playwright who rose to fame in the Harlem Renaissance era, is credited with the start of jazz poetry. Hughes' work focused mainly on the plight of the poor and working-class Black men and women. His work also was meant to be something that Blacks could see and look within themselves and take pride in their culture and use it to thrive. His influence on a number of artists, both in the U.S. and abroad, is noteworthy.

On this night, intertwining the music from his trumpet, along with pianist Sabine, bass player Blake White and drummer Sheldon Reed, McCurdy paced all over the stage to speak from Hughes' 12-part poem. The piece centers on the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad during the early 1960s. Sometimes it was just McCurdy mumbling and shifting to the beat of the band's jam, but when he'd emphasize the words with his voice, one could close their eyes and sense that they were there, actually listening to Hughes tell the story of the real Black experience.

But keeping one's eyes open meant taking in the full multimedia performance. Throughout McCurdy's show, pictures of many well-known Black entertainment stars and everyday folks, too, flashed across the big screen. There were also different pictures of Hughes to offer a career retrospective.

McCurdy, who first did his performance in 1997 at a museum connected to University of Minnesota, has toured the nation and abroad, at universities and in Carnegie Hall. There's even a video on YouTube where McCurdy shares the spoken word duties with rapper Ice-T.

At the end of the performance, McCurdy took a few questions from the audience. When asked what Langston Hughes meant to him, the respect and admiration he has for the man was evident. "He was greatness, brilliance and a master storyteller," McCurdy said.

He added that if Hughes, who died in 1967, was still alive today, "I say that he'd be a rapper. He wouldn't be misogynist, he would be a conscious rapper, bringing people together, not tearing them apart."

Remaining Black History Month Events at USD

The TPB Langston Hughes Project is just one of many events taking place on the USD campus to celebrate Black History Month in February. Still ahead for the campus community to participate in are these events:

Thursday, Feb. 21

• A Black Art Exhibit night on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Black Student Resource Commons, Student Life Pavilion room 410. There will be visual art — photos, paintings, drawings as well as dances and poetry and more.

• Black Cinema Series: Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" film will be shown, starting at 6 p.m. in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall's Warren Auditorium. This series, hosted by USD's Humanities Center, also includes a post-film discussion about the film, issues it raises and their lasting significance.

• The College of Arts and Sciences and Warwick's Books will host Marlon James, the Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, Thursday at 7 p.m. James will be speaking about his newest book, Black Leopard Red Wolf, in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. Tickets include a copy of the book. The cost is $32.33 for a general admission ticket and an autographed copy of the book and $42.33 for two general admission and a signed copy of the book. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and seating is first-come, first-served. There are also free tickets for USD students by using the promo code USDSTUDENT, but a book is not included. Copies will be available for purchase.

Monday, Feb. 25

• The San Diego Public Library and USD's Copley Library present Dr. Monique W. Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. Morris will speak on the circumstances that drive young black girls away from school. Monday's event will take place in Copley Library's Mother Hill Reading Room from 7-9 p.m. Registration information.

Thursday, Feb. 28

• Black History Month luncheon, hosted by the BSRC, will take place from 12 to 2 p.m. in the SLP's Plaza Mayor area. Come and enjoy time together as we look back on the celebration of Black History Month 2019.

• Black Cinema Series: The final film screening of the month-long series is "Moonlight." The screening will take place from 6-8 p.m. in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall's Warren Auditorium. Hosted by USD's Humanities Center, there will be a post-film screening discussion to explore its content, issues it raises and the film's lasting significance.

— Ryan T. Blystone                 

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