Jazz musicians celebrate the life and music of Billie Holiday
With the legendary impact left by jazz singer Billie Holiday, it’s fitting that her hometown continues to defend her heritage and celebrate her music.
In honor of Holiday, the University’s Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts (BHPLA) hosted its third annual “Jazz in the Square” event on September 11. artist Maimouna Youssef, better known by her stage name Mumu Fresh. Other Baltimore-based jazz musicians, including students from the Peabody Institute, also performed at the event.
Lawrence Jackson, director of BHPLA, highlighted the importance of the event in an interview with The News-Letter.
“We want to reclaim and pay homage to what we call native American classical music, jazz music,” Jackson said. “Baltimore is one of the premier sites for the creation of jazz music and we want to make sure we honor it properly.”
BHPLA was founded in 2017 to create an archive documenting the history of African Americans in Baltimore. According to Jackson, the initiative was created to build relationships between the university and the community.
“[BHPLA] was about creating circuits of reciprocity and possibility and new ways for us to think about the college community, ”Jackson said. “My idea was that a lot of what we need to do is build relationships and build them with generosity and humility and with brotherhood and brotherhood. “
Since then, Jackson and his colleagues have organized research exhibitions, several lecture series, and art programs.
During the event, Baltimore City Council member John Bullock gave a brief introduction, noting that Holiday’s influence persists among the younger generations.
“It’s a great event because we can showcase the community,” Bullock said. “We also looked to rename a local elementary school after Holiday. There is so much heritage in terms of art, music and culture in Baltimore.
A quintet of Peabody students opened the event, filling the air with the sweet notes of a trumpet, along with saxophone, bass, electric guitar and drums. The music was jovial and engaging, with many spectators cheering and cheering them on.
After Peabody’s students, the Nasar Abadey Quartet graced the stage to keep the air electric with jazz. The quartet is made up of drummer Nasar Abadey, bassist Herman Burney, pianist Richard Johnson and trumpeter Sean Jones. Abadey, Johnson, and Jones are all on Peabody’s faculty, and Burney is an assistant professor at Towson University.
The quartet’s performance created a peaceful energy in the park. Their fluid jazz music was a perfect backdrop for the sunny late summer afternoon.
The main act featured Youssef, who joined the quartet for the last part of their performance. She performed some of Holiday’s hits as well as other notable jazz songs.
Youssef’s dynamic voice complemented the quartet’s music as if it were the band’s fifth instrument. She sang without limits, pouring her emotions into the music. Her rendition of Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was a standout number, and she paid homage to the song’s legacy with her gorgeous, bossy vocals.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Senior Daphne Moraga recalled the impact of Youssef’s message at the start of her performance, in which she discussed the importance of art and music amidst the many issues affecting the world.
“Youssef spoke about the plight of black Baltimoreans and all of us in these times of such conflicts, between one person and their neighbor or communities in general with COVID[-19] and racial violence, ”Moraga said. “The versatility of her voice and style was really great, and she made every song her own.”
Moraga stressed that Hopkins students should feel privileged to live in a community from which icons like Holiday hail.
Freshman Veronica Minney is a huge Holiday fan. She decided to attend the event after seeing it on HopkinsGroups.
“These events are helpful in breaking the Hopkins bubble,” Minney said in an interview with The News-Letter. “I would like to have more links with the musical and artistic events initiated by Hopkins so that the students are aware of [them]. “
Moraga claimed that Hopkins should organize more events similar to this one to promote an appreciation of the city’s many beautiful aspects among undergraduates.
“It’s missing in the dialogue at Hopkins,” Moraga said. “I want us to learn and debunk the myths about Baltimore that the media like to perpetuate. It is a city full of love, art, music and struggle, which must also be shown.
Laura Wadsten contributed reporting for this article.