Pittsburgh has a rich history in jazz, dance and the arts in general. This legacy was celebrated in a spectacular showcase earlier this month.
The much anticipated beautiful newly opened August Wilson Center for African American Culture hosted the Multicultural Arts Initiative’s third annual celebration of diversity in the arts with “Legacy: Celebrating the Fabric of Our Culture,” a program celebrating diversity and richness of the arts and fashion.
|ARTIST OF THE YEAR—Sean Jones performing one of his many hits.
The evening began with a reception and silent auction featuring the works of area artists Tina William Brewer, Thad Mosley, Kathleen Mulcahy, Ron Desmett and Dale Kelly.
Malik Yoba served as master of ceremonies, making an appearance with Pittsburgh’s own Lamon Rucker. The audience enjoyed exciting performances by the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. They opened the program with “Take the A Train.” Then all the orchestra members exited the stage, one by one, leaving only the drummer who was then joined by the Afrika Yetu drummers in dueling matches. The performance phased into Afrika Yetu, engaging the audience with the stimulating drumming and sensational eye candy by way of male models from the Utopia Modeling Agency, clad only in loin cloths as African warriors, showing off ripped abs and well-defined arms.
|DANCE— Actress performing a dance in play on Jazz Night.|
Next, Mukami wa Kimotho performed a stunning rendition of “Mama Africa” as Kyle Abraham danced.
MCAI honored Sean Jones, as Artist of the Year. A video was shown highlighting Jones’ musical career and his work as a professor of Jazz Studies at Duquesne University. Jones is a trumpeter and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. A Warren, Ohio, native, Jones has toured with good friend Wynton Marsalis and performed on Nancy Wilson’s 2006 Grammy award-winning album, “Turned to Blue,” just to name a few.
Jones said he was honored and overjoyed to be chosen for the distinction. He thanked the city of Pittsburgh for welcoming his family with open arms. Jones, ever so humble, would not take credit for any of his accomplishments. He said this is not about him. He referenced a scripture that says, “Greater is he who is within you than he that is within the world.”
“I want to make sure that the gift I was given when I was born is given to the rest of the world. I am just a vessel,” Jones said. Next, he serenaded his mother, as she sat on stage with a song he wrote especially for her called, “Mama.”
The evening culminated in a fashion show with the models of the Utopia Modeling Agency in a program titled, “FashionAfricana.” But this wasn’t your typical fashion show with models strutting fancy duds on a runway. The fun and creative styles were showcased as part of a skit, produced by Mark Southers of Pittsburgh Playrights Theatre Company, set in a 1940’s night club. The models of the Utopia Modeling agency acted as patrons to the club as the skit unfolded to the music of the PJO.
Global Beats, Pittsburgh’s entity of world music and multiculturalism, with founder Carla Andrea Leininger and Tim Guthrie co-owner of Ava Lounge in East Liberty, provided an eclectic mix of after-show beats.
Robert Reed, MCAI executive director said he was pleased with the event’s turnout. “We are here to promote and support diversity in the arts and this show has done that,” Reed said. He was thrilled to be able to celebrate in the August Wilson Center and looks forward to being able to celebrate the arts more often.
Lamon Rucker said he was happy to come home, reconnect and to be a part of the program.“It’s great to see this space used for what it’s intended, showcasing the arts,” he said. “It’s equally nice to see Pittsburgh’s strong jazz legacy celebrated.” Growing up in an artistic family, Rucker said he feels completely at home. “I’m used to seeing this in my living room. This is the company I was born into.” Rucker continued by saying the progressive energy of his Pittsburgh contemporaries is refreshing and he knows the arts community in Pittsburgh will only continue to soar upward.