THE Q&A: Rock My Soul recognizes Black female artists

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Black female artists have long reshaped and influenced the culture of the music industry, with little or no respect or recognition.

Having made significant contributions over the years, the power of Black female artists has prevailed and marched on to the beat of their own drum as they claim their rightful place in music history.

As part of its 2022-23 season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association is doing its part to extend well-earned praise to Black female artists, and show appreciation through an event called, Rock My Soul, Celebrating Black Women Artists In Collaboration and Community, a festival celebrating both historical and present-day collaboration and community formed by Black woman-identifying artists.

“We are proud to amplify the vast and very special artistry of Black women in collaboration with the LA Phil,” said Mercedes Cooper, senior vice president of programming for Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.

“This series seeks to rediscover and reflect on the abundant contributions made by Black women, past and present, across musical genres in relation to storytelling. Our hope is that this exploration through music, movement and motion pictures conjures new imaginations for our future voices.”

Rock My Soul takes place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 22 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The show is curated by soprano Julia Bullock and features performances by Chaka Khan and Rhiannon Giddens and more. Danielle Ponder will be the singer for Bryan, Bonds & Price on Nov. 11. Jeri Lynne Johnson leads this program that brings the historic fight for acceptance and dignity by Margaret Bonds and Florence Price into conversation with the modern day. The program features works by Valerie Coleman, Courtney Bryan and Ponder in addition to selections by Bonds and Price.

Rock My Soul, which shines a light on the power of creative community, is inspired by the friendship between composers Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, whose mutual support helped them break down barriers to have their music heard in the classical music world of the early 20th century.

Rock My Soul with the LA Phil offers a diverse range of music with messages about historical recognition, liberation and fierce self-empowerment; and highlights artists who speak to the need for accountability as a human collective.

Rock My Soul also will include a Humanities program, curated by Cooper, and will include a performance by and conversation with Grammy Award-winning musician and “Queen Sugar” composer Meshell Ndegeocello, the participatory event Movie Soundtrack Yoga led by R&B Yoga founder Lauren Spearman, and a live performance by J’Nai Bridges followed by the film “Carmen Jones.”

“The phrase ‘Rock My Soul’ has a long lineage and legacy,” said Bullock, who is curating the event. “It is the leading lyric of a traditional Black American spiritual about expanding one’s being in every dimension and direction imaginable.”

Bullock, a curator in high demand said, the song title was later utilized by philosopher and educator bell hooks, “who communicated about the importance of understanding the pursuit of love, a sense of community and commitment to continuous exploration.”

“So for me, the sentiment of Rock My Soul isn’t an ethereal, intangible endeavor, it’s a call to express yourself, engage with everything within and around you and find enjoyment while doing it,” said Bullock who will make her solo recording debut, “Walking in the Dark,” Dec. 9, on Nonesuch Records.

I recently spoke with Bullock, who is pregnant and living in Munich, Germany with her husband, conductor Christian Reif, and, therefore, is unable to attend the festival in person.

DD: How did you come to curate Rock My Soul?

JB: It’s not something I had considered up to this point. The proposal was so amazing. It was a chance to not just program vocal music, but all music. It’s an open invitation to think about the creative community. Their pitch was initially to just focus on the relationship between Florence and Margaret. I did know very much of their repertoire. It was not part of the research I had done on other projects. It was a great opportunity to research the life and work of these two brilliant composers. It’s been a really great process. I listened to a lot of music a lot of scores and watched presentations and lectures. I read about their lives and work and then just started gathering info and honing what I found.

DD: Why did you want to curate this show?

JB: When the LA Phil asked me to curate this festival, I was excited, because the artists that precede and surround me who identify as Black, American and women have deeply impacted my musical life. However, like many artists, I don’t want to be positioned, even if what I choose to share is geared in a certain social or political direction. That said, there’s no denying how strong bonds in personal relationships, claiming one’s identity and reflecting and considering past and present circumstances that impact what art is made and offered.

DD: What do you think about the Philharmonic doing a series like Rock My Soul?

JB: Not surprised. Every art institution seems to want to reevaluate itself and try to ensure that the work they’re doing is a genuine reflection of the culture they are claiming to represent. If you are in L.A., or any place in the world, if you want to claim the badge of being a cultural center, what is the art you want to share? I wanted to make sure this isn’t just a one-off experience for them or for L.A. This is about building relationships with really great artists and collaborators. This is a women-led team. I like that. I hold myself and everyone around me accountable. It’s been awesome to have that reciprocated. Mutual respect. I’m very grateful.

DD: Why should the public support this series?

JB: It sounds like a cool place to be. There is going to be amazing music, performances and really great conversation and a chance for people to gather together and share space and time. I hope with this diversity of experiences, we can all celebrate and enjoy.

DD: Why do we need to celebrate Black women artists in collaboration and community?

JB: I celebrate them all the time. It’s been a long history of a lot of dismissals. That’s why. That’s the call out. Acknowledge our contributions to culture. This is an invitation.

DD: What a lineup.

JB: Chaka Khan got an invite and she is doing her thing. Giddens is doing her thing. Ava DuVernay the same thing. Every artist has been given a space to contribute and I hope they get to do what they want at this time with the theme of this festival.

DD: Talk about your role as the curator.

JB: Thinking of the role of a curator it’s really about research and not making assumptions about the content or context and just seeing what emerges and of those things that spark some interest in me, finding a way to share that interest with other people and not making assumptions of anybody who comes to the space. I hope the artists feel valuable and have a shared vision of what we want to do. If that vision starts to become clouded — what can we do immediately to find clarity again? That’s important to me.

“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

 

 

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