Black History Month
by Joanna Weinstein, 01/25/2012
African-American culture has played an enormous role in shaping New York City. During the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement and throughout the evolution of literature, politics, jazz, hip-hop, dance and sports, the five boroughs have been home to countless leaders who have helped define the African-American identity—cultural and intellectual luminaries like Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston and, more recently, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Jay-Z. In February, the City honors Black History Month with a series of events for all ages and interests. Offerings this year include Jay-Z's historic two-night stand at Carnegie Hall, Nelson George's acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Boheme at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and up-and-comers testing their skills at Amateur Night at the Apollo.
Through June 3
Question Bridge: Black Males at the Brooklyn Museum
This video installation by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Chris Johnson (in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair) features interviews with 150 black males living in 12 American cities. The discussions were edited, weaving together one long-form piece of dialogue with themes that touch on family, love, interracial relationships, community, education and violence. For more information, visit brooklynmuseum.org.
February 1–October 31
Amateur Night at the Apollo
Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo, a theater where black performers and patrons were once banned, has served as the golden ticket to a big break for many performers. The 2012 season of Amateur Night will feature a slate of new artists from all backgrounds looking to win over the capricious Apollo crowd each Wednesday night. For more information, visit apollotheater.org.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 at The Bronx Museum of the Arts
The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975, a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Göran Olsson, examines the evolution of the Black Power Movement. The film combines music, startling 16mm footage (which lay undiscovered for 30 years in the cellar of the broadcaster Swedish Television) and interviews with African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars—including Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and other leaders of the Black Power Movement. For more information, visit bronxmuseum.org.
February 4, 17 and 26
Historic Harlem: Celebrating Black History Month from Big Onion Walking Tours
There's no better place to celebrate Black History Month than in the New York City neighborhood most central to African-American history and culture: Harlem. Meet in front of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and see venues like The Abyssinian Baptist Church, Strivers' Row, the Apollo Theater and The Big Apple Night Club. You'll also travel to places relevant to Harlem innovators like W.E.B. DuBois, Madam C.J. Walker, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and many others, along with sites related to the Harlem Renaissance. For tickets and more information, visit bigonion.com.
Jay-Z at Carnegie Hall
Celebrate black culture (and the birth of Blue Ivy Carter) with Jay-Z's performances at Carnegie Hall. The NYC native plays a two-night run to benefit United Way of New York City and the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation; ticket proceeds will go toward helping fight poverty, enhancing on-time graduation rates in underprivileged City schools and making college more attainable for low-income students throughout all five boroughs. Tickets go on sale at 11am on January 30. For more information, visit carnegiehall.org.
Films & Dialogue: Brooklyn Boheme at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, Fort Greene was an epicenter for young black and Hispanic artists. Acclaimed writer and historian Nelson George (The Plot Against Hip Hop) and director Diane Paragas co-directed Brooklyn Boheme, a documentary that explores how this Brooklyn neighborhood helped foster talented folk like Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Chris Rock, Lorna Simpson and more. See the film and stay for the discussion. For more information, visit nypl.org.
Hip-Hop with Illstyle! at Flushing Town Hall
Multicultural dance troupe Illstyle takes the stage at Flushing Town Hall to teach attendees of all ages and skill levels the fundamentals of various dance styles: b-boying/b-girling, jazz, modern and others. (Drop-it-low gurus should note that there won't be any "you got served" opportunities here.) For more information, visit flushingtownhall.org.
Word Rapport: Harry Belafonte's My Song at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Hear "King of Calypso" Harry Belafonte discuss his memoirs, My Song, with Schomburg director Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The autobiography gives readers an inside look at Belafonte's life, from his impoverished Harlem background and his struggles with racism in the Navy during World War II to how he became one of America's most treasured entertainers. For more information, visit nypl.org.
Global Weekends: The African-American Musical Mosaic at the American Museum of Natural History
Join the musical frenzy as the American Museum of Natural History hosts performers including singer/actress Sandra Reaves-Phillips, classical musicians The Harlem Quartet, indie and blues singer-songwriter Charles Mack and the Academy Award–nominated IMPACT Repertory Theatre (best known for performing "Raise It Up" in the film August Rush and at the Oscars). For more information, visit amnh.org.
Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden
Before the integration of the NBA, the Harlem Globetrotters gave African-American players the opportunity to compete with—and beat—competitors from all over the world. In fact, the Globetrotters defeated the mighty Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and 1949. One of their star players, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, became the first black player to sign an NBA contract when he joined the Knicks. These days, the team is better known for its irrepressible tomfoolery (most basketball teams don't dump colorful confetti on the opposition) and outlandish winning percentage (more than 98%, boosted by a schedule heavy on the weekend's opponents, the Washington Generals). For tickets and more information, visit thegarden.com.
The Indelible Influence of Malcolm X at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Participants including Salman Rushdie, Ishmael Beah and Kathleen Cleaver celebrate the legacy of the legendary minister and activist by reading from his diaries, speeches and letters. For more information, visit nypl.org.
February 21 and 25
Black History Month Family Program: Swing Dancing at MJM at the Morris-Jumel Mansion
From the Lindy Hop to the Jitterbug, swing dancing became synonymous with the 1920s and '30s jazz era. At this event, learn about the history of the form, get a tour of the Morris-Jumel Mansion museum and receive a swing-dancing lesson—all for free. Registration is required to secure a spot. For more information, visit nyc.gov/parks.
Music at St. Mary's with The Harlem Chamber Players at St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Attend the fourth-annual Black History Month Celebration at St. Mary's and enjoy a performance by The Harlem Chamber Players, an ethnically diverse group of professional musicians who aim to bring affordable classical music to Harlem and beyond. (The group will also be performing at Carnegie Hall on February 16.) For more information, visit harlemchamberplayers.org.