A soulful night of music, poetry and imagery illustrated the struggles of African Americans in the 1960s Friday in Kreider Hall. The performance, “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz,” was led by Dr. Ron McCurdy of the USC Langston Hughes Project. It featured poetry inspired by Langston Hughes from the Harlem Renaissance.
“This poem helped me to connect with my own roots, said McCurdy. “With young people there’s a real disconnect historically with understanding the evolution of being African American,” said McCurdy.
“Knowing the struggle, how we got out of slavery, that whole evolutionary process, he said. “If more people understood that history you would find more concern about trying to improve themselves scholastically, academically and becoming more knowledgeable about life.”
McCurdy, a renowned musician, paced back and forth across the stage, disappearing behind the large video screen that featured images of the Harlem Renaissance-on one side he would play the trumpet as part of the quartet for which he co-composed the score, and on the other he would read the poem as written by Hughes.
The project began with Dr. McCurdy in 1996 and has remained in its present format for the past three years but still remains a, “work in progress,” according to McCurdy.
The campus performance, which was sponsored by the Glendale College Cultural Diversity Program, featured the debut of newly arranged, avant-garde, video footage. Not originally conceived by Hughes, the video element added another artistic layer to the overall performance while also serving as a means to attract the attention of younger audience members, according to keyboardist and co-composer, Eli Brueggemann.
“It’s there to assist you,” said Brueggemann. “And to help you feel the vibe of what’s going on in the text.”
Another new addition to the presentation was bassist Edwin Livingston. “It’s good for me to be a part of this because I can bring something to the table,” said Livingston.
“It’s kind of funny how things haven’t changed a whole [lot], some things have improved but we have a long way to go.”
Drummer, Peter Buck, also applauded the performance in bringing life to the struggle of African Americans.
“There’s such a strong social relevance [that] many of the things discussed in this poem have not been resolved,” said Buck. “Plenty of stuff [mentioned in the poem] that is still going on today that still needs to be discussed and still needs to be brought to the attention of as many people as possible.”